August 01, 2004

Act Blue

On second thought, I couldn't wait to share this piece with you. On Wednesday at the New Energy for America forum, I got a chance to talk for a bit with Benjamin Rahn, the president of Act Blue, and he gave me a demo of his group's product.

What they've essentially done is set up the backend support for your own, customizable, Democratic PAC. They are currently helping ice cream maven Ben Cohen's TrueMajorityAction PAC, and Cohen says that "they are making it easy and fun for folks to support great candidates and get their friends to do the same." Rahn described PAC style and issue oriented contribution bundling as the most powerful way to fund candidates, but what it involves is "lawyers, bank accounts, strict reporting, and heavy fines if you do it wrong." And unless you're a major league individual fundraiser, someone like Atrios or Kos, campaigns you encourage visitors to contribute to are unlikely to be able to maintain any kind of record of how much you've raised. And if you want to support several candidates, it's a lot to expect even your most generous readers to click on upwards of half a dozen links to go to individual campaign websites.

Enter Act Blue. People interested in supporting Democratic candidates can set up an account, and just start picking candidates they'd like to channel money towards. After picking your set of candidates, Act Blue sets up a single web page for you that lists all of them. When your visitors click through to the page, they can check off one or all of your chosen candidates, and enter an individual donation amount next to each one. When you finish the transaction, one total charge is made to the donor's card, and Act Blue gets the cash to its destination. Rahn says that anyone who uses email or makes purchases on Amazon can use this system.

For the would-be fundraiser, Act Blue provides live reporting of all the contributions made through your page. If your contributors opted to share their information with you (which they don't have to do), you also begin building information on your own natural donor base. They handle all of the FEC reporting, and take care of the legal and accounting issues. They even provide visitors with information on the leanings and chances of particular states or districts, aiding an informed decision about where to encourage donations. As Rahn says, the work of building interesting content and drawing contributors is still up to you, but "you are now EMILY's List" in terms of functionality.

Act Blue doesn't take a cut, but they provide an option in the checkout process to contribute directly to them. Rahn expects that the donations will eventually be self-sustaining, though in these early stages they're being funded privately.

Rahn referenced a recent IPDI study on online political influentials (pdf). According to the study, while only 10% of the general population are politically influential, up to 69% of online political participants fall into that category. Based on data indicating that about half of online influentials are Democratic leaning, Rahn estimates that there are around 7 million of them. He says that if a tenth of one percent raised $250 each, that would represent another $1.7 million to Congressional and Senate races.

Said Rahn, "we have pick-up opportunities in places we have no business doing so well in," like Colorado, Oklahoma, and Alaska. He sees Act Blue as a way to bring the growing power of online activism to bear on winning national races, while democratizing campaign finance.

Update: Correction of attribution regarding Mr. Cohen's statement made at the behest of Mr. Rahn.

Posted by natasha at August 1, 2004 11:48 AM | Elections | TrackBack(2) | Technorati links |

I'm actually an advisor to Actblue. Ben is brilliant and terrifically careful about campaign finance stuff - he's built a wonderful service.

I'm sorry we didn't have a chance to talk at the Convention. Are you going to be in NYC?

Posted by: Matt Stoller at August 1, 2004 07:19 PM

Hey Matt,

I was disappointed, too, but that place was pretty busy. One of these days it will all work out ;)

I'm going to try to be in NYC, but I'm very doubtful that I'll get internal credentials. What about you, will you mostly be covering the protests or have you got an in?

Posted by: natasha at August 2, 2004 10:46 AM