Democrats Are Learning How to Blunt the Effects of Citizens United

According to the Washington Post’Paul Kane, the executive director of Paul Ryan’s Congressional Leadership Fund wrote a memo to donors Tuesday saying that, “The GOP is now facing a green wave, not a blue wave.” This is why he’s worried:

Some 60 Democrats raised more than $1 million in the third quarter, a big number for House races, but 30 of those raised more than $2 million and eight raised more than $3 million — those are levels usually reached by statewide candidates for Senate or governor.

Kane eventually gets to a description of how the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee broke from their previous practice and has focused their efforts on helping individual candidates raise small-dollar donations themselves, which I wrote about previously. Meanwhile, Republicans continue their reliance on a very different funding source.

To be sure, Republicans have a committed group of mega-donors who have seeded outside conservative groups with seven- and eight-figure checks that have helped make up some of the difference.

Apparently this game-changing fundraising strategy isn’t just working in House races.

Here’s the long view of what is happening. Back in 2004, Howard Dean tantalized the political world with his ability to use the internet to raise money from small donors for his presidential campaign. The next step was for Barack Obama to demonstrate that, not only could Democrats compete with Republicans by raising small-dollar donations, they could sustain a campaign over the long haul. The concern, at the time, was that candidates running in state and local elections couldn’t replicate those efforts because it required a national audience to raise sufficient funds. This cycle is proving that assumption wrong vis-a-vis House and Senate candidates.

All of this is demonstrating that when Democrats up their game by being smarter and more creative, they can blunt the effects of Citizens United, which has allowed hordes of dark money into the political process. It will still be important to work toward overturning Citizens United. But that is a long-term effort and it is important in the meantime for Democrats to free themselves from the corrosive effects of big money. That’s why we should not only note the amount of money Democratic candidates are raising this cycle, but also point to how they’re raising it—and from whom.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.