What Republicans Are Learning From Democrats About Fundraising

Just a month before the 2018 midterm elections, Elena Schneider wrote that Democrats had found their answer to the Koch brothers.

Hundreds of thousands of online donors are pouring gobs of cash into Democratic House campaigns at an accelerating clip — a bulwark against a late-summer advertising assault that Republicans hope could save their majority.

Following the Supreme Court’s Citizens United Decision, Republicans placed their bets on conservative billionaires pouring millions of dollars of dark money into super PACs. To the horror of people like Karl Rove and Jeb Bush, that didn’t turn out so well for them.

But back in 2004, a couple of techies were creating an alternative. By 2007, reporters were starting to notice.

Operating from an office just off Harvard Square, Matt DeBergalis and Ben Rahn, through the Web site they created, ActBlue.com, have raised $32 million since it was started in 2004. They are gearing up to make good on their promise that it will raise $100 million for Democrats in this election cycle.

In many ways, ActBlue has turned fund-raising on its head by exploiting the power of the Internet and small donors that was pioneered by Howard Dean and bringing it to the next generation of grass-roots supporters and online donors.

Where big-dollar fund-raising is typically done behind closed doors with well-connected bundlers and showy, costly fund-raisers, ActBlue is just the opposite. It is an Internet-based political action committee that lets Democratic candidates use their Web site as a portal to collect donations, making fund-raising cheap, and, for donors, as simple as a click of a mouse.

For the 2018 midterms, ActBlue helped Democratic House and Senate candidates raise over $700 million in small donations. On the House side, that came with a game-changing assist from the DCCC.

In addition to providing the funding necessary to compete, it is important to note the advantages of small dollar donations. SuperPACs are limited in how much they can contribute directly to a campaign and are not allowed to coordinate their efforts with a particular candidate. They also pay much higher rates to run television commercials, so they get a lot less bang for their buck.

Fifteen years after DeBergalis and Rahn started ActBlue, Republicans are finally catching on to the value of small dollar donations and are trying to replicate what Democrats have done.

Republicans are set to launch a long-awaited, much-delayed online fundraising platform on Monday, a move aimed at closing Democrats’ massive small-donor money advantage ahead of the 2020 election.

WinRed is being billed as the GOP’s answer to the Democratic Party’s ActBlue, which has already amassed over $174 million this year. The new tool is intended to reshape the GOP’s fundraising apparatus by creating a centralized, one-stop shop for online Republican giving, which the party has lacked to this point.

It will be interesting to see how this works out for them. But I love the irony of Republicans having to play catch-up when it comes to funding political campaigns.

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.