Funding the Progressive Movement

On Monday, the New Progressive Coalition released its signature product, the Political Mutual Fund.  The mutual fund provides progressives with an easy way to donate intelligently to organizations which are pursuing a sound strategy towards a larger goal identified by NPC.  For starters, NPC has identified three large-scale goals which progressives can "invest" in: Victory in 2008 and Beyond, Health Care, and Energy Independence and the Environment.  To be selected for investment within a mutual fund, an organization must meet a variety of criteria. 
It must have a strategy consistent with NPC's goals; it must be effective; it must fill a gap in the political landscape; it must be innovative; it must provide a good "return", according to quantifiable metrics; it must have potential for growth and for changing the landscape; and it should have a good track record and a high-caliber staff.  Individual investors should not plan on getting their money back, except in progress made towards political goals.

The launch of the political mutual funds has been successful, with coverage at the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, DailyKos, ABC, CBS, Time, USA Today, CNN and Forbes.  In terms of real dollars, the three funds combined have so far pulled in just north of $100,000.  The mutual funds together include 37 progressive organizations, including Energize America, the energy legislation group begun on Daily Kos.  There is a relatively low barrier to entry; to join in the fun, progressive investors should chip in a minimum of $50, plus a 2% administrative fee.

The political mutual funds are the culmination of about two years of organizational soul-searching, market research, and some fairly intense grappling with the progressive political landscape.  When it first began, NPC's mission was to serve both progressive organizations (by providing them with resources, both monetary and otherwise, to help them succeed) and progressive investors (by giving them a chance to invest in effective organizations, and to participate in more meaningful ways as well.)  NPC devoted considerable resources towards studying the progressive political landscape.  It divided the alphabet soup of progressive organizations into six sectors: Advocacy, Electoral, Idea Generation,  Infrastructure & Capacity, Leadership Development, and Media.  Inspired by the use of return on investing metrics in the world of financial investments, NPC developed the theoretical framework of a "Political Return on Investment" metric within each sector, measuring things like legislation passed per dollar invested.  Along the way, NPC shifted its focus; instead of creating a marketplace where investors would invest in, partner with, and mentor progressive organizations, NPC decided to create a pseudo-financial instrument for investors to "consume".  The political mutual fund is that instrument.

With the launch of the political mutual fund finally upon us, the progressive movement now has a broad-based mechanism which will allow individual investors of relatively modest means to participate in meaningful and intelligent movement-funding.  But what does the rest of the landscape for funding the progressive movement look like, and what is missing?

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Does John Edwards Have An ActBlue Problem?

John Edwards often touts the double-your-donation aspect of the public financing system, which allows public funds to match individual donations up to $250. Two e-mail blasts in the last week soliciting donations urged supporters to "double your impact." And when I spoke with Elizabeth Edwards in San Jose last month, she expressed disbelief that the blogosphere would be resistant to John's accepting of public funds for the very reason that it doubles the small dollar donations that the blogs are so good at raising.

Now, it appears there may be a danger that many of those online donations could possibly be ineligible for the matching funds after all.

From The Politico:

John Edwards doesn't accept contributions from political action committees, but the lion's share of his contributions have come through one particular PAC -- ActBlue. And that could be a multimillion-dollar problem for the Democrat's presidential campaign.

The former North Carolina senator has received more than $4.3 million from people who contributed through the PAC's website, an increasingly common fundraising technique. But it's also a technique that may not jibe with the clean elections program Edwards plans to use to bolster his cash-strapped campaign.

Yes, ActBlue is a PAC.

For federal elections, ActBlue is a registered with the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) as a Political Action Committee (PAC) and is not connected with any candidate, party, or other entity.

The FEC prohibition on matching PAC money reads as follows:

Once they have established eligibility for matching payments, Presidential candidates may receive public funds to match contributions from individual contributors, up to $250 per individual. The contributions must be in the form of a check or money order. (Purchases of tickets to fundraisers and contributions collected through joint fundraising are matchable contributions, but loans, cash contributions, goods or services, contributions from political committees and contributions which are illegal under the campaign finance law are not matchable.)

So what now? The Edwards campaign has asked the FEC for a ruling (pdf of request) in which the campaign makes a strong case for the donations via ActBlue to be matching fund eligible:

But Lora M. Haggard, chief financial officer for Edwards' campaign, argued in a letter to the FEC that contributions given through ActBlue, which bills itself as "the online clearinghouse for Democratic action," should be treated like contributions from people, not a PAC.

She pointed out that Edwards' campaign directed contributors to ActBlue's website and asserted the campaign used the PAC as a processing agent, much like campaigns use banks to process donations made using credit cards.

"ActBlue contributions should be matchable because it is in essence doing nothing more than conveying permissible funds donated by individuals to [Edwards]," she wrote.

Clearly.

There are many potential pitfalls for Edwards as a result of his decision to take matching funds but if there's one upside, hopefully it's that the FEC rules will be re-written to reflect the new reality of online political donations.

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ActBlue is Hiring!

ActBlue is on the hunt for some kick-ass individuals to join the team and transform the Democratic Party: a communications genius, a legal mastermind, a blogger's blogger, and entry-level folks ready to learn the new tools of the trade.

If any of these sound like you, please read on. And if any of them sounds like someone you know, please send them this post and point them our way.

Since 2004 ActBlue has sent more than $30 million to over 2,000 Democratic campaigns and committees. We're laying the groundwork for aggressive targets in 2007-08: massive growth of our fundraiser network, increased outreach to thousands of state level campaigns, and raising $100 million for Democratic candidates and committees.

To reach those goals we're seeking comrades-in-arms, so to speak -- super-sharp people who share our political goals, our commitment to rock-solid dependability, our impatience with inefficiency, and our commitment to serving as an honest broker for all Democratic campaigns.

Here are our current openings -- for full descriptions and application info, see http://actblue.com/content/jobs

Key qualities we're looking for in applicants for all positions:

  • Serious written and oral communication skills
  • Serious attention to detail
  • Serious willingness to do whatever needs to be done
  • Serious commitment to Democratic victory

We are extremely selective in who we hire. You'll be working with a close-knit team in a rather free-wheeling environment that rewards initiative. You'll need to learn quickly and grow comfortable making independent (and correct!) decisions. Political or campaign experience is often helpful, but not a requirement.

All positions are full-time in Boston. Come join us!

Questions? Email jobs@actblue.com.

The State of the States

A great local online activism update, from the diaries - Todd

Cross-posted from the ActBlue Blog.

There is a rising force in the online community, often forgotten by the mainstream media because of their niche audience and dispersed nature. With over half a million readers a week they are on the front lines of grassroots battles. Their ears to the ground and their footsteps echoing in the halls of their capitals, they are often the first to report on issues and breaking news that eventually bubble up to the national discussion.

This force is the vast and ever growing community of state and local blogs, both those in the 50-state blog network and beyond. These blogs and their nearly 1000 authors are both a part of the national Netroots and unique local communities unto themselves. 

In some states with more established blogging traditions, networks of bloggers have created communications tools to facilitate the sharing of best practices and to coordinate messaging campaigns. Other blog networks have worked to grow readership and develop true community-oriented sites. This year has seen some of the most interesting developments as these blogging communities started flexing their fundraising muscle in state and local races. Even better, some have gone a step further by leveraging their online presence into offline action. This maturation of state blogging is truly exciting.

I've gotten in touch with some of the organizers of this new breed of activism in hopes that by sharing their experiences, we might inspire others to similarly innovative action.

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Why does ActBlue support Every Democrat?

The following post is provided by ActBlue's President, Benjamin Rahn.

When I'm explaining ActBlue to people who don't spend much personal or professional time on politics, I usually start with something like "Most PACs operate by endorsing candidates who are strong on their issues and raising money for them.  But we're not like most PACs."

At ActBlue we pride ourselves on being an honest broker in the Democratic movement. Concretely, that means that every Democrat running for President, House, Senate, and state executive and legislative races around the country that's registered with the appropriate election office is listed in our candidate directory (or at least they should be -- if you notice someone missing just let us know) and we provide them all with access to exactly the same software and services.

And we're particularly proud that campaigns trust our neutrality: in primaries including the recent MA-05 special election and the upcoming ME-01 and CA Senate District 3 races, all (or almost all) of the Democratic campaigns are using ActBlue as a core part of their online fundraising program.

But for an organization with an inherently political mission, it's an odd route to take.  So why'd we do it?

When Matt DeBergalis and I founded ActBlue in 2004, this course was a straightforward choice for several reasons:

  1. Republicans controlled every branch of government and were on an unchecked tear to remake this country in their own horrifying ultra-conservative vision: a disastrous war abroad, erosion of civil rights at home, and a government run for the benefit of corporate greed -- social and environmental consequences be damned.  We needed to push back--hard--by returning the Democratic Party to power.
  2. The organizations, bloggers, and grassroots activists we wanted to serve were all making different choices about who to support.  With different issue priorities, different strategies, and different opinions about which campaigns were most likely to put Democrats over the top, the best way to help them all was to build a platform that could support all of the candidates for whom they wanted to fundraise.
  3. It didn't hurt that this route was easy to implement. We could focus our efforts on building a novel fundraising platform rather than detailed candidate research.

Of course we got a good bit of flack for this choice in various corners: "Why are you supporting [candidate X]? They're way too conservative/crazy/long-shot to deserve help from ActBlue."  One of my off-hand responses from 2004 lives on in our Frequently Asked Questions:


You listed a candidate who clubs baby seals-shouldn't you take them off the site?

We...don't impose our personal or ideological judgments on our decisions to include or exclude anyone. However, if our users share our anti-baby-seal-clubbing views, no one will promote them on their fundraising pages, and there won't be any problem. 

In that quip, though, lies a more fundamental reason for our approach that we didn't fully appreciate when we got started. By offering a trusted, neutral platform for all Democratic candidates and fundraisers, we're creating a more democratic (little 'd') party -- and that ultimately makes the movement stronger.

Let me unpack that a bit.

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Diaries

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