Today, July 19, has come to be known as "Blogosphere Day" on the progressive side of things. It dates back to 2004, when the confluence of a suddenly open Republican-held Congressional seat in Pennsylvania that had voted for Al Gore in 2000, a little-known Democratic candidate who had refused to let him go unopposed but was not taken seriously by the national organizations when this opportunity presented itself, a netroots community that wanted to Do Something about that, and a brand new fundraising tool called ActBlue that made Doing Something a piece of cake. I'll let Boadicea give the detailed history, but basically each year on this date another otherwise overlooked candidate has been highlighted for support, with dramatic results.
So what is ActBlue? They dub themselves the online clearninghouse for Democratic action. The way I think about it is that ActBlue is a new type of unofficial party committee, designed around tools and neutral third party handling of data rather than a specific set of politicians to support. While the DSCC looks at the Senate, or the DCCC at the House, ActBlue works to find the people at any level in the party who want to work, and gives them the tools to raise money for whatever they need.
It's a perfect hybrid approach to the Federal/State model of America. Unlike parties in parliamentary systems, political parties in America are cross-cutting amorphous networks of people, with no consistent standard for who is and isn't powerful. Every state has different laws and a different political culture. In New Jersey, the county party leaders raise money and pick state Senators, but in other states party officials at the municipal committee level are the ones who glue the party together. ActBlue, when they enter a state, doesn't care who uses their tools, they just want to find the people who need them. And what they are finding is, in essence, the Democratic Party. They have taken the the internet, which doesn't care what state you are in but just serves web sites and data in a neutral manner, and made the Democratic Party look a lot more like it.
This has had a number of significant effects. One is that it's changed who is in office and how they see their base. One line I love from Ben Rahn is that what ActBlue does is 'make the invisible visible'. People with powerful address books have always channeled money to candidates, but only if you can raise $2000 checks do you get credit in the system. Now, however, the woman who promises to give you her awesome brownie recipe if you give $10 to her favorite candidates has real influence. It's no longer the lobbyists and cautious insiders that politicians see as reliable sources of support. Someone like Pat Murphy, who recruited his volunteers at Drinking Liberally and raised money from ActBlue, is extremely brave in politics because he knows lots of us can contribute to him. He didn't have to get his start self-financing or from the well-capitalized, though that is traditionally where politicians come from. And I just got some stats from Karl at ActBlue that showed that of the congressional campaigns that use ActBlue for their online fundraising and received at least $5000 from ActBlue, the average percentage of their fund raised online for Q2 was 22%. The change is real, it is palpable, and it is changing who politicians respond to. And as ActBlue expands to more states (they are at 22), where they can work with state candidates as well as Federal, more politicians will have more tools at their disposal.
The second big effect ActBlue has in the political process is to empower loose networks, such as the blogosphere. I don't believe that Americans are apathetic; from what I've seen, when a system is horribly complicated, people stay away from it. And the political system is incredibly complicated, to keep the public away from it. ActBlue is directly striking back at the trend towards elitism by demystifying how power works, and how your $20 and list of friends can make an impact. The left-wing blogs, and our various institutions, are powerful because we have found ways to engage in the system, and the single most significant tool that forces our politicians to deal with us is ActBlue.
And it's impossible to overstate how big an impact ActBlue has had on federal, state, and now even local politics. In just three years, they've collected $25 million, mostly from small donors, and distributed it to Democratic candidates all across America. They do it cheaply and efficiently, and they do it for tips. You just can't beat that.
But you can support it, because a great idea like this shouldn't have to live on tips alone. Today, in honor of all the work ActBlue has done to help you support the candidates you like, please consider giving them a donation, so they can keep doing what they're doing and keep making it better. Just click on any of the ActBlue links in this post, and give them a few bucks. It doesn't have to be much - the whole genius of ActBlue is the recognition that a lot of small donations adds up to one really big donation - but the act of giving means a lot. I thank you, and ActBlue thanks you, for your consideration.Posted by Charles Kuffner on July 19, 2007 to Show Business for Ugly People