I don’t want to come off as the sorta blogger who obsesses on issues (though actually, it’s kinda my schtick), but I just can’t help but go back to that misleading article on Sen. Patty Murray’s fundraising in yesterday’s Seattle Times.
As the Times accurately reports, Sen. Murray has raked in a lot of cash from lobbyists and PACs, a not all too surprising fact considering that she’s one of the most powerful appropriators in Congress. And as I’ve already pointed out, it would be professional malpractice for lobbyists not to give to Murray.
There’s no indication that Sen. Murray has done anything illegal or unethical in accepting these contributions, or that contributors have purchased themselves any undue influence. In fact, as an anecdote involving her angry reaction to Boeing’s decision to build 787s in Charleston clearly illustrates, Sen. Murray is not afraid to publicly threaten one of her top contributors.
But what really sticks in my craw — and what leads me to wonder if the Times’ Kyung M. Song fully understands the subject on which she’s reporting — is how, in a subsection titled “Friends with agendas,” the article blatantly misrepresents the role of online political contribution clearinghouse ActBlue:
Microsoft is Murray’s top donor by contributor; its executives, employees and its PAC have given $131,000 since 2005 to Murray’s campaign and to M-PAC. The company just edged out the No. 2 contributor, ActBlue, a political-action committee that bundles individual donations to Democratic candidates.
Well, yeah, technically ActBlue is a PAC, and it does bundle individual donations to candidates, but that’s not particularly descriptive, especially within the context of an article whose thesis appears to be that Sen. Murray is a captive of special interests. For ActBlue doesn’t actually function like most every other federal PAC.
Most PACs raise money into their coffers, and leave it to their board to decide which candidates and committees to distribute funds to. ActBlue doesn’t do that. Instead, it uses its PAC status to legally accept earmarked contributions from donors, merely serving as a conduit to forward those contributions to the directed candidates and committees.
The genius behind ActBlue is that it democratizes online giving by taking most of the paperwork, time and expense out of what can be a very complicated process, enabling, say, bloggers like me to help raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for candidates (like, say, Darcy Burner), with little more than a blog post and a link. For example, simply click here to make a secure, credit card contribution to Sen. Murray, and ActBlue will forward it to her campaign.
And ActBlue’s model has proven a fantastic success. Since 2004, ActBlue has sent $138,297,445 to Democratic candidates and committees, via 1,063,855 contributions, for an average donation size of less than $130.00. Donors have elected to support 6,000 distinct committees through ActBlue, at every level of politics from local to federal.
So I forwarded the Times article to ActBlue communications director Adrian Arroyo, and asked him to put those numbers in perspective:
“I think those numbers underscore why it’s misleading to lump ActBlue in with the other PACs mentioned in the article, especially given the unfortunate section header “friends with agendas.” Unlike the other PACs listed, ActBlue doesn’t tell donors where to donate–that decision is entirely in their hands. Kyung M. Song wants to argue that Sen. Murray’s incumbency has led to her capture by special interests, but the fact that ActBlue is her #2 “contributor” undermines that thesis. It demonstrates that, in the aggregate, small donors can engage in politics at the same level as mega-corporations like Boeing and Microsoft. That’s good for Sen. Murray, good for Democrats, and good for democracy.”
If all you knew about Sen. Murray’s fundraising came from reading the Seattle Times, you’d think ActBlue was some powerful special interest group — you know, one of those “friends with agendas” — when in fact it is merely a tool for enabling small donors like me and you to collectively rival the power of special interests.
All the more reason why it would be a disservice to voters to let them get all their news from the Seattle Times.