Yesterday morning, Sam Stein of Politico/MSNBC posted a dramatically-worded Tweet (er...make that “Post”):
NEW -- The ActBlue data for Dems is dire. The party has raised $30m less through its online portal than at this time in 2019. DCCC and DSCC saw 1/3 less compared to last cycle.
The headline of the Politico article by Jessica Piper is equally grim-sounding:
‘Whistling past the graveyard’: Dem fear grows over massive grassroots fundraising hit
The decline is a major warning sign as the presidential campaign heats up
That’s among the findings of an analysis of fundraising for the first half of the year through ActBlue, the party’s primary donation processor. Small-dollar giving at the federal level totaled $312 million in the first half of 2023 — a drop-off of more than $30 million compared to this point in the 2020 cycle.
Yikes, that sounds pretty bad indeed. I took the bait and read the full article…
...and this jumped out at me:
The platform also had 32 percent fewer donors in the second quarter this year compared to four years prior, although its total fundraising increased slightly due to several factors, including more recurring donors and greater giving to non-federal groups.
Wait, what? Total fundraising via ActBlue “increased slightly?”
I decided to look at the actual numbers publicly reported by ActBlue:
When you add them up, you get:
Q1+Q2 2023: $489,524,232
Q1+Q2 2019: $420,495,118
Sure enough total fundraising via ActBlue is actually up 16.4% for the first half of 2023 vs. the first half of 2019.
So what’s going on here? Well, the key is the federal vs. non-federal clarifiers.
- Donations to federal races (and other organizations/PACs like the DNC, DCCC & DSCC) are down 8.8% ($312M vs. $342M)
But what about non-federal races/orgs/PACs? Well, simple math tells us that:
$420.5M — $342M = $78.5M for non-federal funds in H1 2019
$489.5M — $312M = $177.5M for non-federal funds in H1 2023
Holy cats. ActBlue donations to non-federal funds have skyrocketed by 226% or nearly 2.3x as much so far this cycle.
In other words, Politico says that an 8.8% drop in federal fundraising is “dire” but a 16.4% increase in overall fundraising is a “slight” increase. Huh.
In any event, what could possibly account for that 8.8% drop in federal fundraising? Well, let’s see...what was different about the federal Democratic election landscape in the first half of 2019 vs. the first half of 2023?
I’ll give you a hint...24 of them in fact:
Bennet, Biden, Booker, Bullock, Buttigieg, Castro, de Blasio, Delaney, Gabbard, Gillibrand, Gravel, Harris, Hickenlooper, Inslee, Klobuchar, Messam, Moulton, O'Rourke, Ryan, Sanders, Swalwell, Warren, Williamson, Yang
That’s right...for the first half of 2019 there were a whopping 24 at least vaguely credible candidates vying for the Democratic nomination for President (that doesn’t even include Michael Bloomberg or Deval Patrick, who both entered the race later that year).
Among them, these 2 dozen candidates raised a total of nearly $278 million in the first half of the year.
Compare that with the 2024 cycle, where the only candidates running for the Democratic nomination are President Biden, Marianne Williamson and Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
President Biden raised $20 million in the 1st half of this year, plus another $52 million via his joint effort with the DNC. Williamson has only raised $920K. And RFK Jr. has raised $6.4 million...except he doesn’t even use ActBlue anyway (which makes sense since most of his funds come from Republicans).
Now, these numbers include all donations, not just via ActBlue, but seeing how over 82% of all individual contribution dollars raised by federal candidates came through ActBlue in the 2020 cycle, it’s safe to say that this is pretty representative. In short, the POTUS Democratic primary candidates raised ten times as much in the 1st half of 2019 vs. the 1st half of 2023 because there is no Democratic POTUS primary this cycle.
So no, I’m not exactly sweating bullets over an 8.8% drop in federal election fundraising so far.
What about the U.S. House and U.S. Senate races?
Via ActBlue, for Q1 2023:
- As the Q2 cycle approaches, House and Senate candidates are actively engaging donors to support their campaigns. In Q1, these efforts resulted in an impressive 73.0% increase in unique donors, and we saw more than double the total contributions and dollars raised compared to Q1 2019. This level of momentum and support positions the campaigns strongly for success in the upcoming elections.
What about Q2 2023?
- The US Senate had a particularly strong quarter in Q2 2023, with over double the dollars raised compared to Q2 2019 despite having 11 fewer campaigns, committees, and organizations fundraising.
Wait...so there’s only 2 POTUS campaigns vs. 24 the prior cycle while U.S. Senate and U.S. House fundraising is way up? So who exactly saw a drop according to Politico?
Some progressive groups have already been laying off staff this year amid the ongoing cash crunch.
The progressive group linked to is...the Democratic Socialists of America.
Donations are also down to party committees, such as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which both saw more than one-third drops in their total cash raised from small-dollar donors in the first half of the year compared to last cycle.
That’s $89.7 million combined. So between them they’re down “more than one-third”...which amounts to around $31 million. Which is pretty much exactly what Politico claims is the total drop in federal ActBlue donations.
Unless I’m missing something, it sounds to me like the DCCC & DSCC are the only federal funds which have actually seen a significant drop—and if that drop is being cancelled out by the actual campaigns raising more money, I don’t see that as being a bad thing.
Now, what is a bit concerning is that unique donors are indeed down significantly so far this cycle (3.1 million vs. 4.4 million in the first half of 2019, or around 30% as Politico noted). To me this suggests that there were a lot of people who made one-time donations to a lot of those 2 dozen POTUS primary candidates who presumably lost interest when their preferred candidate lost the nomination.
After all, when you look at the Q1 & Q2 reports for 2021 vs. 2019, the number of unique donors was up 4.6M vs. 4.4M...and that was for a midterm election.
Meanwhile, what’s going on with the non-federal fundraising, which are up a stunning 226% vs. this point in the 2020 cycle?
In the States
In the states, we saw substantial growth in fundraising for legislative and gubernatorial campaigns.
- Q2 2023 state legislative races had an impressive 46.9% increase in campaigns, committees, and organizations fundraising compared to Q2 2019.
- In Q2 2023, state legislative races nearly doubled their small-dollar donor contributions and doubled their unique donors compared to Q2 2019.
- Fundraising for gubernatorial campaigns in Q2 2023 saw a significant increase compared to the same period in 2019. Small-dollar donor contributions and unique donors more than tripled.
There was also the massively important Wisconsin Supreme Court race last spring (the most expensive in history as I understand it), the upcoming Ohio ballot proposal, and a bunch of high-profile special elections for state legislature in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and so forth.
It sounds to me like Democrats are donating just as much (if not more) than they did 4 years ago...they’re just changing which races they’re donating to.
Speaking of which, I strongly recommend donating to some of these candidates today:
ks to some of the individual fundraising pages:
UPDATE: BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!
I noted the drop off in ActBlue fundraising for the DCCC & DSCC as being one of the few parts of the Politico story which is genuinely negative news.
What I forgot about, however, is that this only includes ActBlue fundraising. While ActBlue comprises 82% of individual donations to federal campaigns, the DCCC & DSCC raise money via other sources as well.
That’s right: When you include fund transfers from Democratic House/Senate members as well as leadership PAC funds, both the DCCC & DSCC have raised significantly more so far this year than they did in the 1st half of 2019.
I should also note that a big chunk of the funds being transferred from membership dues & leadership PACs itself likely came from...ActBlue.