On Politics With Lisa Lerer: ActBlue, the Democrats’ Not-So-Secret Weapon

Hi. Welcome to On Politics, your guide to the day in national politics. I’m Lisa Lerer, your host.

There have been a lot of Democratic winners this election cycle. Many are historic firsts. More than two dozen are veterans. And more than 100 are women.

But all have at least one thing in common: ActBlue.

The online giving platform emerged as the piggy bank of the Democratic resistance in the 2018 midterms, funneling nearly $1.6 billion in contributions to Democratic candidates and causes. That’s more than an 80 percent increase over what it brought in four years ago.

And while ActBlue wasn’t the sole source of small-dollar donors for Democrats, it was certainly a powerful one: The candidates, committees and organizations who used the platform — more than 14,500 of them — paid credit card transaction fees and, in turn, got to outsource their financial collections to tested, easy-to-use software. (The group, a nonprofit, funds its staff of about 100 through donations.)

Republicans have long benefited from stronger support among wealthy donors and the business community, relying on a network of lavishly funded super PACs. But ActBlue has changed the game for Democrats. Founded in 2004, the nonprofit has developed into a trusted platform, turning the once-cumbersome process of donating to a campaign into something that can be done with just one click of a cellphone.

The technology encourages small, recurring donations that go directly to candidates, giving campaigns more control over how the money was spent. The money can also be transferred quickly, wired from ActBlue into campaign coffers by the next morning.

“There used to be these old ways of thinking that there was just a finite pool of people to reach out to when you were doing it all on paper,” said Erin Hill, the executive director of ActBlue. “Technology can help democratize this process in a way that wasn’t possible 20 years ago.”

Of course, money doesn’t guarantee success. Four of the five House candidates who received the most in small donations lost their elections, according to a New York Times analysis conducted in mid-October. (ActBlue doesn’t release the top recipients of donations.)

But strategists on both sides say the flood of small dollars — helped along by $110 million from the former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg — changed the race for Democrats in the final weeks of the election season, allowing the party to remain competitive in reach districts, dominate the airwaves and force Republicans to spread out their spending.

“Their money was astronomical,” said Corry Bliss, executive director of the Congressional Leadership Fund, a Republican super PAC. “If you had told me last year this is how much money they would have to spend in these races, I would have laughed at you.”

Republicans, too, are noticing the power of small dollars. The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, issued a dire warning to Republican donors in a meeting after the election, and he charged his political team with figuring out how to better tap into a wider pool of contributors.

“ActBlue wasn’t ActBlue in year one, two or three,” said Mr. Bliss. “Someone has to develop a brand. It’s doable but takes time.”

They’ll have a lot of catching up to do. In the early handicapping of the 2020 presidential race, some of the strongest potential contenders are those with expansive lists of small donors, a group that includes Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, and Beto O’Rourke, who lost his bid for a Texas Senate seat. That’s in part because of the success of Mr. Sanders, perhaps the highest-profile ActBlue user, who powered his 2016 primary campaign through small dollars.

“We don’t go away after a campaign,” said Ms. Hill. “Campaigns, whether they won or lost, they disappeared on Wednesday. We are permanent infrastructure.”


Election week (now, month?) updates

We’re 10 days out from Election Day and votes are still (!) being counted. Here’s the latest on where things stand:

Senate races

• Florida is still, well, being Florida. Rick Scott, the Republican governor, held a 12,603-vote lead over the Democratic incumbent, Bill Nelson. The state is now waiting for the results of a state-mandated manual recount. Here’s how that recount works.

Governor races

• The Democrat Stacey Abrams ended her bid to be the next governor of Georgia on Friday night. In a speech, she sharply criticized her Republican rival, Brian Kemp, but said she saw no legal path to overturn the results. Mr. Kemp is now poised to become governor in January. Read the latest here.

• Ron DeSantis, the Republican, leads his Democratic opponent, Mayor Andrew Gillum of Tallahassee by enough to avoid an order by state officials for a manual recount. Mr. Gillum said he would continue to push to have all votes counted before any election results were certified.

House races

• Democrats are up to a gain of 36 seats, from the 26 seats they had gained on election night. Six races are still outstanding in Utah, California, New York and Texas. We’re keeping a close eye on Utah’s Fourth District, where Representative Mia Love, the Republican, is trailing by just over 1,000 votes, and Texas’ 23rd District, where Representative Will Hurd, the Republican, leads by over 1,000 votes.

We’ll be updating the undecided races through the weekend.


What to read tonight

Amazon is coming to Long Island City in Queens, N.Y., and Crystal City in Arlington, Va. Check out what those places look like now before they’re forever changed by the tech giant.

Thousands of Californians have fled the wildfires, driving through flames and losing almost everything. Here are the stories of nine of them. And here’s what you can do to help.

Sasha Issenberg, a friend of the newsletter, tries his hand at fiction with this fascinating extended thought experiment into what a “conscious uncoupling of these United States” could look like.


… Seriously

I’m sorry, Sour Patch Kids cereal just sounds completely repulsive. But open to hearing arguments in favor. If you try it: PLEASE LET US KNOW. (And send pictures!).


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