The interaction between money and politics is a tricky issue. On the one hand, the basic intuition we have about democracy is that we should all be able to play. And, although it's been a slow process, the movement towards universal suffrage pretty clearly reflects that impulse.

On the other hand, Haim Saban has access to the Clintons in a way that I'll never have because he's freakin' loaded and I'm not. (Disclosure: I shook Bill Clinton's hand once and tried to have him proclaim me his son and heir, but no dice.*) Anyway, the result is that we have this dissonance between what we expect to the truth to be and what we know to be true.

I was thinking about that when I stumbled across this Ezra Klein post over at his less-new-but-still-kind-of-new digs at WaPo. So I said to to myself, hey, I have some thoughts on this, why don't I share them with the internet?

For those of you who didn't click on the link because you wanted to read my words rather than those of your duly-anointed WaPo blogger, here's the gist of Ezra's post: he responds to a question about requiring elected officials to only raise money from constituents by pointing out that this would make the system both more siloed and more parochial. In other words, Democrats in different states wouldn't be able to raise money for each other AND national legislation would be hostage to local interests.


But leaving that aside, I think it's useful to return to our original intuition about democratic systems: everyone should get to play. The proposed change would restrict access, rather than broadening it. And my suspicion is, depending on how the word "constituent" was defined, we might see a massive uptick in the number of corporate offices in important states/districts, neatly circumventing the intent of the legislation.

So what's the solution? Well, a long time ago, some pseudonymous guys--early bloggers--wrote up something they called the Federalist Papers. You might have heard of them. Anyway, they famously advanced the idea that in a large republic it's harder for a single faction to perpetuate itself in power (here we should all take a moment to pour one out for the Permanent Republican Majority). I fully realize I'm addressing only a part of #10 here, but I think it's a useful insight: a larger polity is correlated with positive results. The wisdom of crowds and all that.

The political fundraising process presents a lot of the same problems as "factionalism" does. When only a small number of people are able to participate, pernicious outcomes are more likely. However, when you open the process to a large audience you upset the equilibrium state and create a new portfolio of incentives for elected officials.

Let's take Rep. Alan Grayson's recent remarks as a case study. On the one hand, Alan Grayson is Alan Grayson. He's an outspoken progressive, and he's not going to take any guff from the GOP on healthcare. At the same time, it seems unlikely that he, a first-term congressman from a moderate district in Florida, would have made this gamble if he didn't think it would pay off.

On the most basic level, it has. Grayson told TPM that he's raised 120-150k since his remarks. Some 100k of that came through ActBlue. If you scroll down a little bit you can see that he's got the PCCC, Darcy Burner, FDL, Blue America, Open Left and many others fundraising for him. Those are new voices--new voices supporting a new congressman, letting him know that they appreciate him taking a stand on this issue.

But even that doesn't capture the full scope of what's going on. Behind those fundraising pages are thousands of people who took a few moments out of their schedule to make their opinion known. At the end of the day, it's that process that empowers these new voices and creates the climate where Rep. Grayson can speak plainly about GOP obstruction.

In short, the engine driving this dynamic is the combination of your Democratic passion and the means to express it. Your donations revitalize politics by elevating and sustaining new candidates and organizations. ActBlue enables you to participate in the Democratic fundraising process, and, over time, that creates a political system that's less insular, more transparent, and more accountable.

That's the power of grassroots fundraising, and the ripple effects of the process we've enabled will be felt throughout American politics in the years to come.


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*That last part of my Clinton story didn't happen. I didn't have a fatted calf and the local Starbucks folks weren't keen on me using their counter as an altar. It just wasn't meant to be.

Originally posted to ActBlue on Fri Oct 02, 2009 at 10:15 AM PDT.

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