The One-Way Flow Of Progressive Movement Money
by Chris Bowers, Thu Jan 25, 2007 at 07:06:22 AM EST
In the 2003-2004 cycle, according to an internal study of FEC reports, the membership of MoveOn.org contributed $180 million to Democratic candidates for federal office (House, Senate and President). Given both that the progressive netroots are larger than just MoveOn.org, and the propensity of netroots activists to make small donations that would not appear in FEC reports, the total amount of money the netroots contributed Democratic federal campaigns and committees in 2003-2004 was probably closer to $300 million. The Center for Public Integrity explains where this money went:
In the 2004 federal races, more than $1.85 billion flowed through a professional corps of consultants whose influence plays an important, though largely unexamined, role in the unrelenting escalation of campaign spending, a groundbreaking Center for Public Integrity study has found.(...)In a painful and disturbing irony, the same Democratic political consultant structure that the netroots seek to reform--and which Markos and Jerome called "The Consultant Con" in Crashing the Gate--is actually being funded, reinforced, and strengthened by the netroots. Roughly one-third of the money that went to Democratic campaign consultants in the 2003-2004 election cycle came from netroots activists, even if those activists were not always giving online. The large commissions on media buys, the bad television ads, the consultants who continue to be hired despite repeatedly losing elections--that is all being directly funded by people like you.
- About 600 professional consultants were paid more than a combined $1.85 billion in the 2003-2004 federal campaigns.
- Media consultants, who offer political and strategic advice and handle political advertising, were paid $1.2 billion, or 65 percent of all consultant spending.
- Direct mail consultants billed the second-largest amount, $298 million, totaling 16 percent of all consultant spending.
- Consultants routinely pitch campaign plans that rely heavily on their own specialty because there is a financial incentive to do so.
- Fundraising consultants, whose services are necessitated in large part by the rising amounts campaigns spend on other consultants, cost candidates at least $59 million.
My partner at BlogPac, Matt Stoller, has previously written about examples of full-time progressive movement activists who receive little or no compensation for their work. Maria Leavey, who did not have health insurance, passed away last month as the result of a heart attack a doctor could have identified. Lane Hudson was fired from the Human Rights Campaign for being too aggressive when he pushed the Mark Foley scandal into the mainstream. And it goes beyond activists. Buy Blue, a brilliant, entirely netroots driven campaign to help keep progressive money in progressive hands, may shut down soon because it does not have any funding. Local progressive bloggers typically lose money on blogging every year, even as they help transform local media and activist scenes. Even a prominent blogger such as myself, who helped raise around $2 million for Democratic candidates and committees in the 2005-2006 cycle (and transfer another $3 million into competitive races through Use It Or Lose It), spent the entire 2005-2006 cycle without health insurance. Quite frankly, it is pretty brainless for someone such as myself to help so much money flow into the hands of a small number of highly paid consultants without simultaneously raising money to meet my own basic needs, such as health insurance. What the hell was I doing?
But I am not just angry at myself, or the general lack of funding currently available to the people, institutions, and ideas that make the progressive movement so vital. I am also pissed off at the Democratic and progressive establishment that is funded with our dollars, but which refuses to fund us in return. I have worked on trying to secure more monetary and other forms of support for bloggers for a long time. For example, that was why I founded the Liberal Blog Advertising Network, and that is what Matt and I are trying to do with BlogPac. However, there have been quite a few other, less successful ventures I have tried, and the main problem has always been that large progressive donors, institutions and politicians just don't want to fund something they can't control. Since the political blogosphere and the people powered progressive movement is, by nature, something over which no one can exert all that much individual control, it just doesn't get funding in the same way that more staid, cautious, and restrained progressive organizations and politicians receive. It also doesn't help that we have been so good at channeling resources into the establishment without asking for anything in return. Why would major donors, organizations, and politicians bother to fund us if we fund them without asking for anything in return?
This situation sucks--literally. When it comes to political contributions and the progressive movement, the flow of money is almost entirely one-way. To the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, it is sucked out of the movement, and pocketed by the establishment. This is yet another reason why the recent New York Times article about progressive bloggers supposedly being on the take was absurd. As a handful of progressive bloggers are criticized for picking up the occasional establishment consulting job, the progressive netroots as a whole funnels exponentially more money into the establishment while receiving virtually no help in return when it comes to building our movement. What progressive organizations do anything to help support the same bloggers they rely upon in order to spread their message? Almost none. What Democratic politicians who post diaries on blogs like Dailykos use their PACs to give money to movement building organizations like BlogPac or Democracy for America? During my tenure as treasurer for BlogPac, the only leadership PAC that gave us money or any resources at all was Senator Russ Feingold's Progressive Patriots Fund (and yes, I did ask quite a few others). Leadership PACs, multi-issue advocacy organizations, large progressive donors--these are establishment elements that could make a huge difference in ensuring the survival and long term growth of the progressive movement in the same way that the progressive movement has exponentially enhanced the electoral, media and activist capability of the entire progressive ecosystem. But that isn't happening, and the money still continues to flow almost entirely in one direction. As we enhance their structures, many of ours regularly teeter on the verge of outright collapse.
This situation is untenable over the long term, and so in our dealings with members of the progressive establishment we can't stay quiet about it anymore. When major figures in the progressive establishment post diaries on blogs such as Dailykos, commenters need to remind them of ways they can help build the progressive movement. Tell them to purchase Blogads on progressive blogs in their home state. Tell them to have their leadership PACs donate to organizations such as BlogPac, and to have their donors to the same. Tell them they it many cases, they and their donors can directly provide an anonymous financial tip to their favorite blogs using Pay Pal. Tell them to only hire fundraising organizations that provide their grunts with a living wage. Point them to sites such as Buy Blue which instructs progressives on how we can keep our money in progressive hands. In other words, tell them that as much as we are willing to help them, and as much as we appreciate their newfound respect, we need their help too, and give them specific ways in which they can provide that help.
If progressivism is going to continue to be on the rise in America, the one way flow of progressive movement money has to end. Not only do netroots activists have to do a better job of providing resources to build netroots infrastructure, we have to let the establishment know it needs to help build that infrastructure itself. Doing so is in their own best interest, and just not because the progressive movement helps the Democratic Party and the progressive, political ecosystem. As I pointed out at the beginning of this post, we are funding them. A strong progressive movement means a strong resources base for the Democratic establishment. If they want to see that resource base wither on the vine, one of the best ways would be to never lift a finger to help us. This is a point we need to make to the establishment as clearly as possible.
As a final note, in the comments, I would like to hear any and all ideas you may have on helping to fund the progressive movement. BlogPac is listening.