When people talk about the progressive “netroots” the first thing that comes to mind are the plethora of local and national blogs that have grown to challenge the legacy media’s diminishing control over the political narrative. But in fact it is much, much more than that, and one of the most exciting and important netroots developments of the past few years has been the growth of ActBlue, an online fundraising clearinghouse that is beginning to enable the financial power of the people to challenge the entrenched power of corporate America.
The US Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that money is speech, and in that context, the special interests of the ultra-wealthy have long spoken louder than the interests of the average Joe, but by democratizing fundraising, introducing efficiencies and creating new grassroots opportunities that flip the traditional top-down model on its head, ActBlue has begun a process that could eventually free candidates from the financial stranglehold of corporate sponsors. The fact is that money, and the media it buys, be it television, radio, direct mail or other, is the primary means by which candidates communicate their message to voters; no realistically achievable amount of doorbelling or coffee klatches can win a congressional district on its own, and no candidate can be expected to compete for votes without securing at least a somewhat level financial playing field. ActBlue provides a tool that doesn’t just enable progressive campaigns to tap into the aggregate resources of the public at large, it enables the people to organize ourselves in support of the candidates we prefer, as opposed to merely those candidates the political establishment would prefer we be limited to choose from.
During the 2006 cycle ActBlue showed its potential, enabling the national progressive netroots community to funnel its collective resources into a handful of high-profile local races… but that is nothing compared to what we have seen so far heading into 2008. In 2005 candidates raised $1,684,797 on ActBlue from 23,816 individual contributors. In 2007 those totals leaped tenfold to $16,872,127 from 169,287 contributors. And were only just now entering the heart of the fundraising season.
Locally, the impact and influence of this populist tool can be easily discerned from ActBlue’s list of Top Ten Candidates in 2007:
|Joseph Sestak Jr||PA-07||2067|
While the roughly $140,000 Darcy Burner raised via ActBlue in 2007 accounts for only 16% of her $858,125 total, it played a crucial role in her achieving an early TKO of her primary opponent, and has provided the difference between trailing incumbent Dave Reichert in cash-on-hand versus her surprising lead. Sure, it would take double-max contributions from only 30 Republican fat cats for Reichert to counter the efforts of Burner’s 4189 ActBlue donors, but there are many, many more of us than there are of them, and that is what really puts the fear of God into the political establishment on both sides of the aisle. Burner raised less than $32 per ActBlue donor (compared to an ActBlue average of $119 per contribution in 2007,) tapping into a much broader pool of potential donors than heretofore possible in local races, and virtually eliminating the financial advantages of incumbency: nearly 90% of Burner’s 2007 money came from individual contributions, while about half of Reichert’s money came from PACs and committee transfers.
It would be an overstatement to claim that ActBlue has changed the nature of political fundraising, but it sure does appear to be in the process. (At least for the Democrats. Republicans can’t seem to put together a comparable service.) And candidates like Burner sure do appear to be at the forefront of these changes.