ActBlue- What's the Big Idea?

Bumped and slightly reformatted -- Jonathan

Karl-Thomas works for Actblue.

Most MyDD readers have at least some familiarity with ActBlue.  You may be among the 15,000 who contributed via the 2006 Netroots fundraising page, or among the 110,000+ contributors who have used ActBlue to send $18 million (and counting) to over 1200 Democratic campaigns and committees since we launched in 2004.  And as a MyDD reader you certainly know why Democratic dollars are crucial to the political future of the country.

But in recent conversation one prominent blogosphere denizen made an eye-opening comment. To paraphrase: "I know ActBlue is the place where I go to contribute to the netroots candidates...but is that the big idea?" Well...yes and no.  The netroots fundraising page is a big idea -- $1.5 million raised on that one page alone sure made a lot of people take notice.  But there's a bigger picture here, a bigger idea about changing politics.

Rather than spewing off a bunch of talking points, though, we're going to take a different approach: in the coming days and weeks, as part of the BlogPac/ActBlue fundraising drive we're going to tell you some stories, do some analysis, and use those pieces to build up a 30,000-foot view of ActBlue and how it's shifting the terrain on which our political battles are fought.

Seeing as I've just recently joined ActBlue after having graduated from UT-Austin, I wanted to start by just taking you through some of the highlights that jumped out at me when I was thinking about jumping on board full-time, and then tell you a bit about where we're going.

What is ActBlue?- ActBlue is a Federal PAC and series of State PACs active in 22 states that empowers anyone -- individuals, local groups, and national organizations -- to fundraise for the Democratic candidates of their choice. To date, that's $18,953,791 worth of empowerment. Our goal is to help Democrats get elected by putting ActBlue's powerful fundraising tools in the hands of every local blogger, Democratic committee, and progressive grassroots group around the country.  We're going make sure every eligible state legislative campaign and executive campaign knows that with ActBlue can accept online contributions from day one. And we're going encourage every federal campaign to leverage ActBlue's community fundraising platform -- and thereby encourage them to engage in a more democratic politics.

ActBlue Facts and Stats- ActBlue is now being used for Presidential level fundraising with our 2008 candidate and draft funds. But to set up the framework for how we got here let me begin by pointing out some interesting historical data.

  • ActBlue was there for candidates like Richard Morrison in 2004, Paul Hackett in 2005, and Ned Lamont & Ciro Rodriguez in 2006. In each case, impressive candidates and their supporters organized to raise unexpected online funds that changed the electoral dynamic and media perception of races across the country. The power of small donors was realized.

  • In the 05-06 cycle, the top 5 recipients benefiting from ActBlue were Freshman Sen. Jim Webb ($890k), Freshman Rep. Joe Sestak ($870k), IL-10 challenger Dan Seals ($540k), OH-02 challenger Paul Hackett ($540k), Freshman Rep. Tim Mahoney ($510k).

  • Progressive bloggers Daily Kos, MyDD, Swing State Project, Firedoglake, Crooks & Liars, Down with Tyranny, Atrios, and AmericaBlog together raised $2.3 million in 2005-06. You know the rest...

  • Over 110,000 people have now donated to candidates using ActBlue. The average contribution is $110 split between two candidates. 500 candidates for federal elected office received contributions via ActBlue in primaries and general elections. Over 360 state level candidates and committees in our 22 active states received contributions. There are 1,200 fundraisers who have set up ActBlue fundraising pages to support their favorite candidates with unique methods (like the HelpMeGetAHaircut page, Pizza for Progressives, or I Donated a Case of Beer to Barack Obama page).

  • Supporting ActBlue as part of the BlogPAC/ActBlue monthly recurring donations campaign is a great investment. With only $25,000 in seed money when it was started in 2004, ActBlue turned around and saw $850,000 distributed to Democrats. For 05-06, distributions grew to $18 million with only $345,000 in operating expenses. So while traditional fundraising practices return $2 on ever $1 in investment, ActBlue was able to turn every $1 in investment into $50 in return for campaigns.

ActBlue Success Stories- Some specific projects that were active last year under the radar of the netroots community at large include the following.

  • Secretary of State Project- The Secretary of State Project used bloggers, of which I was one, and ActBlue to raise $415,000 for seven Democratic candidates for Secretary of State in swing states.  The result: Democratic victories in Ohio, Minnesota, New Mexico, Nevada, and Iowa with a near miss in Colorado bringing hope for fair 2008 presidential elections in these states.
  •  
  • Sen. Maria Cantwell- ActBlue's slate-style fundraising has encouraged unprecedented teamplay among Democrats.  In 2006, Maria Cantwell, facing her own challenging race, used ActBlue to raise $100,000 for Darcy Burner, Peter Goldmark, and Richard Wright, all of whom were facing tough House races in Washington state.
  •    
  • ActBlue Utah- Utah citizen-activists and party committee members came together to raise $10,000 so that ActBlue could expand to support Utah state candidates.  ActBlue and the Utah State Democratic Party then worked to train Democratic candidates and campaign staff in using ActBlue to fundraise online.

So where are we going from here?

  1. Expansion to further states- State legislative and executive candidates in 22 states can fundraise with ActBlue; we're going to be tackling the remaining 28. We're currently active in Alabama, Arizona, California, Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Maine, Mississippi (soon), Montana, North Dakota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia (full launch end of February), Wisconsin, and Wyoming. If your state isn't listed and you know some resident campaign finance experts or geeks let us know and we may very well move your state to the top of the list!

  2. Training and campaign services- It's not enough to just provide technology; we want to help campaigns and fundraisers use it well.  In the summer and fall of 2006 we began a series of very successful training conference calls about fundraising in general and ActBlue in particular.  We see an enormous opportunity to positively influence the operations of campaigns and the impact of grassroots activists through online-, phone-, and in-person trainings.

  3. Expanding ActBlue beyond fundraising to volunteering and event management- Just as ActBlue has created a unique public space for online fundraising, we will be expanding our website to enable campaigns, groups, and individuals to publicize events, accept online RSVPs, and manage their volunteers.

This is be no means the end or final vision for ActBlue; it's evolving and growing with the input, needs, and suggestions of campaigns and donors like you. I'll be exploring many of these areas in more detail in future posts- giving examples of great ideas and ways people have effectively used ActBlue to achieve victory and grow the Democratic Party across the country.

So what do you think?- Seriously, the power of distributed fundraising is similar to the power of distributed idea creation. What types of things do you think we could do or should investigate? Legal barriers might prevent some suggestions, for others it might be money or time. But there very well could be some outstanding innovative ideas, big picture or small tweaks that we should know about. Leave a comment, we'll be reading and responding. And if you like what we do, may I again direct your attention here.

Tags: actblue (all tags)

Comments

34 Comments

You guys need to start

a draft Ticket fundraising page..

e.g. donate to have two candidates together e.d. Edwards/Obama on one ticket.

if they don't do it the money goes to Howard Dean

by TarHeel 2007-02-08 08:34AM | 0 recs
Re: You guys need to start

We've actually had this suggestion come up before.

It's a good idea and one that we have a workaround solution to. Since there is no real 'legal' why to define a draft ticket because there is no entity to give that money to having actual funds is a problem (and the fact that with so many candidates there would be no end to the combinations!)

But one thing that some people have done is create a fundraising page with both of the candidates they would like to see together on it. So you might have a page entitled "Draft Edwards/Obama" with both the Edwards Campaign and the Obama Exploratory Campaign listed on it and have people divide their contribution.

by KTatActBlue 2007-02-08 08:47AM | 0 recs
Question: Local & County Elections

One very cool aspect of ActBlue that's frequently mentioned is the significant but almost accidental fundraising for down-ticket candidates.

Here in the People's Republic of Madison, we've got a number of good progressive city and county candidates that I'd love to see benefit from ActBlue.  I see on the ActBlue FAQ that you're focusing on getting into more state races before addressing local races.  

My question is this: what's the bottleneck?  Or stated differently, why not pursue both candidate pools at the same time?  I'll avoid the obvious Tip O'Neill quote.  

by hoose 2007-02-08 08:36AM | 0 recs
Re: Question: Local & County Elections

Indeed another good question.

One reason is because once we get down to the municipal level, there are often not partisan elections. ActBlue has to date been very clear about supporting Democrats, no matter what part of the spectrum they are on. In many municipal races, those labels disappear. So the departure from having a preset partisan criteria makes thing difficult because then someone at ActBlue has to make a value judgement of which local candidates to list or not list. That may one day be a step to take, but while there are still states to activate with partisan state level offices, ActBlue will probably keep exploring those options first.

For instance, back in Texas there are candidates for city councils in a couple of cities that the state blogosphere would love to raise money for but different levels of government and especially city government have varying reporting requirements that are not standardized at all. It's probably just a matter of legal research into the requirements but that costs time and money, too. Of course, if you're an expert on Madison, maybe it's something we can work on! But that's the bottleneck.

Some workarounds are to see if there is a county party or state party listed in our directory that might be able to work with the candidate and fundraise for them in the meantime.

by KTatActBlue 2007-02-08 08:55AM | 0 recs
what if..

What if you allowed the state, or local parties (take your pick) be the gatekeepers of the "who's a Democrat in this non-partisan election?" question?

I guess I could imagine some legal problems with that, but it's an idea.

I guess this turns into a question too: why does it take 10k to set up every state? What is it that requires more than just a template state-race-contributions page that you then customize to the state and tweak based on legal requirements? I'm assuming there's a lot more to it, I'm just curious about what that is.

P.S. Thanks for adding VA! I know a certain House of Delegates candidate who will be very pleased :)

by msnook 2007-02-08 08:33PM | 0 recs
Re: what if..

Allowing state or local parties to be gatekeepers is an interesting idea but one that very well may make people on the local level very nervous. I'm sure we can all think of different party levels that might be more or less trusted by the average Democrat. It puts a lot of power into the hands of organizations that may have no interest in deciding that or have their own internal politics. It's something we have talked about but in many cases, these races are what they are: non-partisan.

As to the 10k per state question. It's not so much the template but very much the research and legal fees of figuring out how things work in each individual state. This is especially true sense many of the 'easier' states have already been activated and the remaining ones are comparatively more challenging. That doesn't mean we're not going to try to get every single one of them, but at this stage there are some states that would require legislative action to allow us to work there. That takes time and money to lobby and legislate to be  a legal eagle for contributions. In some states it may be as simple as finding a trusty in-state treasurer (and we'll make posts on calls for this type of thing soon). In others, we won't be able to until we have some serious commitment to tweak the laws.

Fair question though! I'm really excited to be working with the Virginia blogs right now.

by KTatActBlue 2007-02-09 07:06AM | 0 recs
State and County Democratic Parties

My state and county Democratic party is finding it difficult to raise money from small donors. ActBlue excels at this. In the 22 states where ActBlue operates, is it possible to set up a link to contribute to state and county parties?

by dembones 2007-02-08 11:12AM | 0 recs
Re: State and County Democratic Parties

You bet!  Give us a shout at info@actblue.com and we'll get you hooked up asap.

by brahn 2007-02-08 11:35AM | 0 recs
Re: State and County Democratic Parties

Same here, re: county committee is resistant to tech useage (but wants to raise funds--"push-pull" dichotomy reins supreme).

I have two ActBlue accounts w/you folks (no problem, re: familiarity); however, I'm not the treasurer or Chair of my county's executive committee (and only a handful of folks attend the monthly meetings...nothing new in that regard--passing the hat @meetings isn't terribly effective).

We have a meeting tomorrow afternoon--I'll suggest it, but will probably receive the "deer-in-headlights" stare.

Go here to Penobscot County Democratic Committee...portal needs a beefing up, huh (resistance in that regard, also)....

I know I'm not alone on this issue...thanks in advance (esp. for listening)!

by mainefem 2007-02-09 09:10PM | 0 recs
Re: State and County Democratic Parties

Absolutely!

Many state parties are already in the directory:

http://www.actblue.com/directory/search? q=party&state=&year=2008)

Even in states where we are not yet active on the state level, we can raise funds for the state party's federal account.  They should already be in the directory, but please shoot me an email at nate@actblue.com if you see one that is missing.

We already have some county parties in the ActBlue system.  These are the ones that have come to us and requested a listing in the directory.  The days of waiting for county parties to come to us, however, is about to come to an end.

One of my projects since I was hired here at ActBlue in January has been to cull contact information for every county party in each state in which we are active.  In the next few weeks, we will be populating the directory with all of these county parties and all will be ready to accept online contributions.  In the meantime, if you have a county party you would like added now feel free to email me at nate@actblue.com and I'll get you set up!

On a personal note, I am extremely excited to be expanding our support to county Democratic parties.  I know how hard it is to raise money for an entity that does not have a figurehead, as opposed to raising for a candidate.  Yet the county parties are incredibly important!  Often they practically run local races and they provide extremely valuable on-the-ground information to large campaigns.

The county parties that are already using us are seeing great results from asking their members for recurring contributions.  Recurring contributions are great for the county party because they are bale to budget and build a war chest for campaign season.  They are great for county party members because they allow them to make a sustaining contribution to the party which is comfortably spread over months or years.

If you have any questions, don't hesitate to email me at nate@actblue.com

by KansasNate 2007-02-08 11:43AM | 0 recs
Re: State and County Democratic Parties

Nate,

I am going to fwd that along to my county chair and fundraising chair. That is a great idea for ActBlue to be involved. Our county party can definitely use more access to money.

by John McTexas 2007-02-09 06:31AM | 0 recs
Re: State and County Democratic Parties

There are over 1000 County Parties that Nate has indexed in states where we are active. It's such a great solution, considering it's so easy and many of them are not quite at the size to contract with some larger fundraising system. There's only so much one can do on PayPal. :)

by KTatActBlue 2007-02-09 07:10AM | 0 recs
Re: State and County Democratic Parties

the one problem with the county parties is getting them to work the money over to the local candidates.

by orin76 2007-02-09 07:36AM | 0 recs
Re: State and County Democratic Parties

Great!  I'll look forward to hearing from you.

I really am excited to help Democratic county parties fundraise online.  The county party infrastructure is so important and yet often so awfully underfunded.

by KansasNate 2007-02-09 07:37AM | 0 recs
Re: State and County Democratic Parties


Even in states where we are not yet active on the state level, we can raise funds for the state party's federal account.

Could you please explain what money from the federal account is? Can it be used for both electioneering and infrastructure?

by domma 2007-02-09 08:13AM | 0 recs
Re: ActBlue- What's the Big Idea?

I'm a big believer in Act Blue and think it's making a big difference.  But don;t just take my word for it.  

The Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy released a report on the 2006 campaign this week as reported by CQ.  Here's what it says about ActBlue (with some context):

Decades ago, Republicans pioneered direct-mail fundraising techniques that have sustained a longstanding advantage over Democrats in fundraising. But in an era in which online credit card purchases are a staple of everyday life, the Democrats and the political left have done a better job harnessing the fundraising possibilities of the Internet.

One online success story is ActBlue, a Democratic-aligned political action committee, which has proven successful in using its Web site to attract individual donors to give to preferred candidates or even head up their own fundraising efforts.

"I don't believe that our party has quite gotten to the point where we've maximized or utilized the Internet. Certainly I don't think we do as good a job as [Democrats] do," said Republican strategist McElwain. "A lot of our donors still respond to mail, but the people that respond to mail are usually older people that are used to corresponding by mail. And those people are getting to an age where, quite honestly, our donors are dying off."

http://www.cqpolitics.com/2007/02/csed_r eport_discusses_postelec.html#more

by hilltopper 2007-02-08 12:51PM | 0 recs
HUGE netroots support for Hillary

The netroots reward the DLC appropriately.

by Bob Brigham 2007-02-08 09:50PM | 0 recs
Re: ActBlue- What's the Big Idea?
Thanks for this article.
I did not know about the secretary of state project. That is a great idea! Will keep it in mind in my next donation budget. Keep up the good work.
by johnalive 2007-02-09 03:26AM | 0 recs
Re: ActBlue- What's the Big Idea?

The SoS Project was a great collaborative effort. At that time I was one of the 3 bloggers hired to write content for the site and interact with local communities and blogs. It's one of those things that will be of great help to whomever our nominee is in 2008 and is a big advancement for fair elections regardless.

by KTatActBlue 2007-02-09 07:08AM | 0 recs
You inspired me

I've decided to contribute to the Obama Exploratory Committee, in fact, I set up my own page!

The Netroots development page will have my donation soon enough.

by Books Alive 2007-02-09 04:17AM | 0 recs
Re: You inspired me

Great page, and your contribution amount is clever. I hope you found it simple to set up.

by KTatActBlue 2007-02-09 07:07AM | 0 recs
Setting up a page

Thanks, KT. Found it simple to set up. The instructions were clear so that I had no trouble. Then I went on to read the two helpful hints afterwards! I'm mulling over how to approach family members, and ActBlue provides good suggestions there as well.

by Books Alive 2007-02-09 11:45AM | 0 recs
Re: ActBlue- What's the Big Idea?

Great post! And please, please, please make sure you have maximum redundant compuer security, multiple hardware in different locations, etc. The more successful you are the more likely it is that the bad guys will do anything to shut ActBlue down.

by Lew Beach 2007-02-09 04:37AM | 0 recs
Re: ActBlue- What's the Big Idea?

The one major problem I've seen with Actblue is that it has hurt grassroot, insurgent, Reformist State Legislative Candidates. It has allowed Federal congressional candidates, to more or less drain the well dry, leaving them either to depend on the entrenched party structure, to deem them worthy or have deep pockets. Actblue needs to find a way, to level the playing field between, the Federal Congressional, and State Legislative candidates. The current structure simply encourages people, to only give money, to the big name Federal Presidential/Congressional Candidates, and State Executive positions, and the entrenched party structure. Removing access, to the one resource, a lot these types of candidates use to have access to Small in district donors.  That use to have a few dollars left to give to the State legislative candidates after they were asked for large donations by federal and upper level state candidates,and state apperatis no longer do,because now they are giving extra money to Federal candidates that aren't even in their own state.  

by orin76 2007-02-09 07:35AM | 0 recs
Re: ActBlue- What's the Big Idea?

I'm curious where this is happening, can you point out any specific examples? We're active in 22 states for state candidates and for many of them, fundraising occurs either because they used ActBlue directly for their campaign contributions or local blog networks or individuals fundraise for them using pages they have created. It is possible that the problem then is not in the candidates but who is using the system to raise money.

by KTatActBlue 2007-02-09 07:55AM | 0 recs
Re: ActBlue- What's the Big Idea?

I'm not sure I understand this criticism.  Is it your contention that AB making it possible for anyone anywhere to give to a federal race (and now state races in 22 states) is sucking the air out of traditionally very local state races?

Do you have documentation (more than a few anecdotes) where state legislative candidates were fundraising locally in the regular way, and potential donors said "no, sorry, ActBlue maxed me out"?  Because that's the only way I see that could be more than a hypothetical concern.

Disclaimer:  I work with AB on a volunteer basis.

by jsw 2007-02-09 08:42AM | 0 recs
Re: ActBlue- What's the Big Idea?

I may not have explained this correctly ActBlue is not the complete cause of the problem but in areas which already have been looted by the DCCC,HDCC,SDCC,DFA and about 20 other originazations. Actblue is becoming the straw that broke the camelsback. Yes I heard from numberous candidates that told me they had people tell them that I donors who might have given them something said well I would have given you xyz but well I gave it to this candidate I saw on actblue so I don't have anything left to give.

by orin76 2007-02-09 11:54AM | 0 recs
Re: ActBlue- What's the Big Idea?

Pennsylvania was one example, more specifically the Lehigh valley,south central pa and any area that weren't in se pa.

by orin76 2007-02-09 08:38AM | 0 recs
Re: ActBlue- What's the Big Idea?

I know based on what i've heard on this board and from other state candidates this happened in other states too.

by orin76 2007-02-09 08:38AM | 0 recs
Re: ActBlue- What's the Big Idea?

And a lot of state candidates have found the fact that they're listed alongside federal candidates and causes to be a benefit.  It allows national donors interested in funding state candidates to easily find and support those races.

For example, in the late fall, someone created this page: http://actblue.com/page/sprout to support female candidates in a couple of our states.  We heard back from first-time state rep candidate Pam Hemmingsen when she received a $1000 check from the donations raised on that page.

Pam had never met the page creator or the donors.  
The page creator identified Pam's candidacy by scanning our directory and locating Pam's listing.  Pam told us that she was only able to purchase tv ads because of this check.

In addition, we're doing our best to get our fundraising tools and some good fundraising practices in the hands of state candidates and grassroots groups in all our 22 states.  Once given some support and best practices, we find that state campaigns and local groups flourish.

For example, we've seen a whole bunch of county parties raise previously untapped funds by taking our tips on recurring contributions and spreading the message to their supporters.

If you know state candidate or local group that could use some help, send them our way...we're eager to do what we can to assist!  You can email Nate or KT or send us a general inquiry to info@actblue.com

(if not obvious by now, I work at ActBlue, too...we're haunting mydd today.  :-) )

by EHill 2007-02-09 08:51AM | 0 recs
Local Democrats

I am a strong supporter of Act Blue. But for the most part it helps those candidates who could afford other options. So it's greatest value is as a one stop shopping for Progressive supporters. Which has proved itself over and over last year as the life blood for the Progressive movement.

What is the next step? I would suggest getting through to the local level in more states. If my Democratic Town Committee could take contributions through ActBlue it would change the way we raise money. (I am now Chair of my DTC in a small town in Connecticut http://hampton.dems.info )

If our local State Rep and Senate Candidates could be added to our Act Blue fundraising page it would also make a large difference as well. Right now we all rely on checks. If our small time, but oh so important grass roots local campaigns could take contributions through Act Blue and be listed on the same page with the big boys- what a difference.

There is a whole campaign cycle everyone is ignoring. The 2007 local elections. We are here building the base that votes for Congressman, Senators and Presidents. We need some help!

I gave $100 last year towards the "Activate CT" fund on Act Blue but I don't see how we will ever raise the money to do this ourselves.

by JJonMyDD 2007-02-09 11:10AM | 0 recs
Re: Local Democrats

I'm with you JJonMyDD. What you're describing is exactly the type of thing that we are expanding in other states for county parties. We wanted to do this in CT as well and are trying to work out the possibilities to do so. Rules there are a tad more complex. We might be able to develop a solution on the technical side that would allow us to track contributions and the total given by an individual- that would be ideal for a number of reasons but of course doesn't come free. That's where the state activation funds come in because they allow us to build those tools and do the legal legwork needed to make it happen.

And I'm all about trying to make it happen. It's when people express interest and help us that get us moving on that state next.

by KTatActBlue 2007-02-09 11:31AM | 0 recs
Remaining 28

Who could disagree with that statement. But when will Act Blue make CT a priority? Did the other States raise all the money themselves?  What has Act Blue done to raise money for New England States?

It would be helpful to long term planning to know when you plan on taking on and finishing the job in Connecticut. If you are planning on finishing up the remaining 28 when do you expect that job to be done?

by JJonMyDD 2007-02-09 12:43PM | 0 recs
Re: Remaining 28

Every state is a priority but states that step up to the place can move themselves up in that realm by being proactive. Take Utah for example, they organized, had the state party and candidates and blogs and locals all come together to raise the money to pay for the expenses to get their state on the map. Or Texas where the TexRoots bloggers pooled together to activate that state (which didn't cost as much because there are no limits and the legal issues are easier to deal with).

Getting a roadmap of which states are easier than others costs money in itself. If someone in state has a campaign finance expert that is willing to lend services or knowledge, that can help as well. Just get them in contact with us at info@actblue.com

by KTatActBlue 2007-02-09 02:23PM | 0 recs

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