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ActBlue: The not-so-secret Democratic fundraising weapon

You might have heard everyone talking about the “blue wave”: a sweeping Democratic victory in the elections on Nov. 6. But thanks to the online fundraising platform ActBlue, Republicans also have to contend with a “green wave” – a Democratic fundraising advantage.

ActBlue has become a fundraising weapon for the left, raising more than $1 billion for candidates in the 2018 midterm cycle alone. In total, more than $3 billion has been raised through the site since it was created. And the number is growing rapidly.

ActBlue was created in 2004 by two engineers in Cambridge, Mass. At its core, ActBlue is simply a platform that facilitates small-dollar donations getting to Democrats, said Dave Levinthal, an editor for the nonprofit Center for Public Integrity. The organization has tracked millions of contribution records since January 2017 to analyze ActBlue’s impact on the Democratic party.

“There’s nothing comparable to it in U.S. political history,” said Levinthal about ActBlue. “For Democrats or Republicans.”

“It makes it much easier and efficient for Democrats to raise money,” he continued. “It’s the anti-Super PAC. The impact can’t be understated.”

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, the 2018 Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in Texas, speaks during a campaign rally, Monday, Nov. 5, 2018, in El Paso, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

According to ActBlue, the platform raised $261 million in October alone. And they’ve been repeatedly shattering their own records for the most money raised in a single day — on Oct. 31, ActBlue brought in $12.1 million. Most of those donors contributed small sums.

ActBlue raised more than $385 million by the end of its most recent quarter (July-September). The average donation was just under $50. In the same quarter in 2016 and 2014, ActBlue raised $131 million and $82 million, respectively.

“This is something that is very much geared toward the every-person in politics,” Levinthal said. “People who would never show up at a political fundraiser — or be invited — but still want to plunk down their 20 bucks and support a congressional candidate or a presidential candidate.”

A nationwide affair

And as it has evolved, Levinthal said the platform has allowed congressional and local races to become nationwide affairs.

“If you’re a true blue Democrat in Oklahoma, and you don’t think your money will have an effect on your local races, ActBlue makes it easy to funnel your money to candidates in competitive races in other parts of the country,” Levinthal said.

Indeed, anyone who’s tried to donate to a campaign in another state knows it can be a bit of a hassle; you have to figure out who’s running in a particular area, go to their campaign website and donate individually. ActBlue smoothes the process by making a centralized location that allows you to spread your donations out, and highlights key races or candidates supported by certain groups.

More and more, donors are giving to campaigns in districts that are far from their homes. Levinthal points to the competitive Texas senate race as the perfect example. While the majority of the money Beto O’Rourke, running for senator, has received is from donors in Texas, it’s a narrow majority.

“It seems unthinkable that could have happened a political generation ago. Or even 10 years ago,” Levinthal said. “Technology has played a huge role in the evolution of ActBlue as a platform, and made it a lot easier for people making a contribution, period — or a political contribution to a place where they haven’t even stepped foot.”


Though they have tried, Republicans don’t have anything like ActBlue.

“There is no ‘ActRed’,” Levinthal said. It’s unclear why, but he said many theories abound. Some say there are simply more Democrats likely to give $5 to $100 donations than there are on the right. There’s also the heavy reliance Republicans have on large-dollar donors like Sheldon Adelson and Chicago businessman Richard Uihlein. Since July, Adelson, who is CEO of Las Vegas Sands, has donated over $41 million, according to FEC filings.

And, of course, the president also helps Democrats.

“The Trump factor cannot be understated,” he said. “Donald Trump has been a galvanizing force — certainly for his own base, but also a galvanizing force for mobilizing Democrats against him. We’ve seen that in incredibly strong terms and incredibly strong dollar numbers. And that has only gained momentum and speed the closer we get to the election.”

With Donald Trump, ActBlue has been able to “capture lightning in a bottle,” Levinthal said.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, speaks during the grand opening of Trump International Hotel in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Democrats have also been going toe to toe with Republicans with their own Super PACs. This parity makes the impact of ActBlue more powerful, Levinthal argued. “Democrats have a system like ActBlue operating at 100% capacity for all intents and purposes… that’s a huge money advantage for Democrats. It’s like the ‘moneyball’ version of politics, cobbling together what would have been millions of donations into a massive financial force.”

Turning money into votes

So how far will all this money go on Nov. 6?

Stats site FiveThirtyEight is forecasting that Democrats only have a 1 in 6 chance of winning the Senate. Beto O’Rourke, the fundraising darling (thanks to ActBlue) is trailing in the polls behind incumbent Ted Cruz. FiveThirtyEight forecasts that Cruz has a 77% chance of winning.

“There are a number of different factors that contribute to a candidate winning or losing,” said Levinthal. “It’s difficult to generalize across the country.”

“But how will the money play out? We won’t know till the race is over.”

Kristin Myers is a reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.

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