In Defying the Odds, we discuss campaign finance. The update -- recently published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.
For years, Republicans have coveted ActBlue. ActBlue is a progressive fundraising engine started by the grassroots on the left who were frustrated with the Democrats’ ability to block progressive candidates from party fundraising. Through ActBlue, activists could compound small dollar donations and use ActBlue as a pass through entity to candidates.
It exploded over time and a non-profit has ActBlue under its wing. Democrat Party operatives often privately complain about it because of privacy and data concerns, but they recognize that ActBlue has become a crucial vehicle to mobilize the progressive grassroots.
Over the years, various conservatives have tried something like ActBlue. For two election cycles at RedState, we used SlateCard, which performed like ActBlue, allowed us to pick a list of candidates we supported, and fundraise just for them. SlateCard went away. ActRight sprung up to do something similar, then died. Someone else tried something. Nothing ever really took hold.
Well, the Republican National Committee, the President, and some from the President’s orbit have decided to try a top-down approach and build it by fiat, but I think we should all be really concerned with the product, privacy, its cost, and how undoubtedly it will be a get rick quick scheme for a select group of consultants.
This is not a non-profit effort to benefit candidates. This is a for profit effort to make consultants rich at the expense of candidates and small dollar donors.
After a delay of 15 years, Republicans finally launched the site that’s supposed to level the playing field with progressive fundraising powerhouse ActBlue, only … it’s really just a landing page. There’s no directory of candidates, no ability to sign up for an account, no way to create a fundraising page, nothing. Just an animated GIF and a contact form. As of Monday at noon, its Twitter account hadn’t even tweeted.
WinRed (Donald Trump named it himself and tweeted a link to its lone functional page) has a long, long way to go to catch up with the $3.5 billion-with-a-b raised through ActBlue since its founding in June of 2004, and there’s good reason to doubt it ever will. For starters, there’s the grifty fee structure: While ActBlue charges a flat 3.95% per contribution, WinRed takes a 3.8% cut plus 30 cents per transaction.
That might not sound like a big difference, but it’s huge. On a $5 contribution, ActBlue will net 20 cents. WinRed, however, will take 49 cents, which in percentage terms is a giant 9.8%. What’s more, on a contribution page that lists multiple campaigns, it sounds like WinRed will get 30 cents per donation. (From the site itself: “There is a 3.8% + 30 cents per transaction fee with each donation made.”) In other words, if you split $25 across five candidates, that’s a cool $2.45 for WinRed. ActBlue would take less than a buck.
These high fees will make Republican campaigns want to look elsewhere, but the real obstacle for WinRed isn’t uptake from the consulting class. Republicans have long imagined that what they have is a technology problem—“Build a better website and we can take on ActBlue”—but what they really have is a culture problem.