Republicans Are Freaking Out About the Democrats' Small-Dollar Fundraising Machine

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Sometimes on a Monday morning, you need a big ol’ cup of schadenfreude to wake up. Let me pour you one. As Politico reported, Republicans are fretting about their “online donor deficit” compared to the Democrats’ monster of an online fundraising machine in ActBlue.


McConnell reportedly issued a “dire warning” to Republican donors at a fundraising event last week. Republican Rep. Mimi Walters, who may be about to lose her seat, said lawmakers are “very concerned” about ActBlue. It’s “a five-alarm fire,” a former RNC digital strategist told Politico. “We are fucked,” said no one, but they might as well have.

According to Politico, ActBlue funneled over $700 million in donations to Democratic candidates this year. ActBlue has been a significant force in Democratic fundraising for years, but this year it really took off: FiveThirtyEight noted in October that Democratic candidates for Congress had more than tripled their small-dollar fundraising over 2014, from $81 million to $276 million, and 55 percent of all donations to Democrats this cycle have gone through ActBlue, compared to 19 percent in 2014.

Democrats undeniably did better at small-dollar fundraising this year for reasons other than ActBlue. President Trump was the gift that kept on giving, for a start. The Wall Street Journal reported in September that Democrat Jacky Rosen, who ended up defeating Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, “quickly responded” to being called Wacky Jacky by Trump with a fundraising effort. That push led to “$342,000 in donations of $200 or less in the week that followed,” according to the paper, almost one-third of her entire small-dollar haul in that three-month reporting period. Democrats were fired up this year, fueling voter turnout that may have been the highest midterm turnout in a century.

But ActBlue just makes things that much easier for Democrats. It’s so effective in part because it’s an open platform—any Democrat can use it—and because donors can save their credit card information and return to donate again. Small donors are valuable for campaigns because you can hit them up again and again; the maximum donation to a campaign is $2,700 per election, primary and general, so campaigns can almost always go back to donors and ask for another $20 or $30. Rich donors, meanwhile, generally shoot their entire $5,400 wad immediately.

Part of the reason this hasn’t mattered as much for Republicans until now is what Politico described as their “advantage in billionaire giving,” which the site noted has “narrowed considerably” as Democrats start to mop up mega-donations from billionaires like Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer. (This does not bode well for the party’s future.) Still, Republicans received monster support from donors like Sheldon Adelson, who donated $113 million to Republican super PACs this year. $113 million, to be clear, is such a small fraction of Adelson’s net worth that it’s like someone who has $1,000 giving $3.50. If I’m the GOP, I’m sort of mad he didn’t cough up more, honestly.

But never fear! Adelson has the solution, per Politico (emphasis added):

Some Republicans, however, see reason for optimism. In July, the Republican Jewish Coalition, an organization partly funded by Adelson, launched an ActBlue-like portal inviting supporters to give small donations to a list of endorsed candidates. The effort generated about $400,000 in contributions, an indication to its proponents that conservative small donors could be drawn to such a platform.


$400,000. At that rate, the platform should match ActBlue in about 40 years.

Splinter politics writer.