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Dems' Money Infrastructure Gets a Wisconsin Workout

BY Nancy Scola | Thursday, March 10 2011

Protestors gathered in Madison, March 6th; photo by antrover.

The standoff in Wisconsin is putting the left's online organizing infrastructure through its paces.

For one thing, as Ben Smith notes, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Democracy in America pulled in some $200,000 through the fundraising clearinghouse ActBlue since the Wisconsin State Senate passed of the contested union organizing bill last night, money they plan to spend on "flood[ing] the markets" of a handful of Republican senators running in districts won by Obama in 2008.

But there's more. ActBlue's Adrian Arroyo notes in an email that state-based political players are benefiting from online fundraising, too. More than 11,000 donors chipped in to the local Democratic organizations since the vote. The State Senate Democratic Committee has been the recipient of $725,000 from 28,000 contributors through ActBlue, much of it through externally-directed national bundling by MoveOn and Daily Kos; their official website consists of little more than an ActBlue embed. And the state Democratic party has taken in, through ActBlue, another three-quarters of a million dollars.

The right has tried here and there to build an online fundraising clearinghouse to clone ActBlue's success, but nothing has stuck. (One such oft-noted entrant, SlateCard, seems to be completely dead.) Patrick Ruffini, a leading strategist on the right, reports today that his firm Engage is rolling out the ability to combine data from their custom-built fundraising and organizing platforms, an antidote to the technology ecosystem that Republicans and right-leaning organizations find themselves living in that "tends to be more fractured" than that of the political left.

One distinction with ActBlue, though, is that it's free, and the platform part of the business is run as a non-profit. "If we were a for-profit vendor, the sort of software that can handle that kind of spike in traffic would be out of reach, financially speaking, for a state committee," writes ActBlue's Arroyo. "But because we're a non-profit, we can provide software benchmarked for major federal political moments to everyone who uses ActBlue. That's why WisDems have got what they need to fuel future political action."

What it all means in practice is that Democrats, progressives, liberals have at the ready an ability to channel event scattered national interest in a 'flash' political event like Wisconsin into money in their coffers. "Infrastructure matters," writes Arroyo, "and you can't build it in the moment."

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