ActBlue’s stunning third quarter: $1.5 billion in donations

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Democratic candidates and left-leaning groups raised $1.5 billion through ActBlue over the last three months — a record-smashing total that reveals the overwhelming financial power small-dollar donors have unleashed up and down the ballot ahead of the 2020 election.

From July through September, 6.8 million donors made 31.4 million contributions through ActBlue, the Democratic Party’s favored online donation platform, averaging $47 per donation. More than 14,223 campaigns and organizations benefited from the surge in donations, the largest single quarter in the platform’s 15-year history, according to figures shared first with POLITICO. Just in September, ActBlue processed $758 million.

It’s the latest example of ActBlue’s exponential growth and how online fundraising is fundamentally reshaping politics. During the entire 2018 election cycle, ActBlue donors gave candidates and groups nearly $1.6 billion, a total almost matched in a single quarter this summer and fall.

Joe Biden is responsible for a large slice of the total, after announcing Wednesday night that his campaign, along with the Democratic National Committee and the campaign’s joint fundraising committees, hauled in $383 million in September, including $203 million that was raised online. It was the biggest fundraising month ever for a presidential campaign.

Jaime Harrison, a Democrat challenging South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, raised $57 million in the third quarter, breaking the record Beto O’Rourke set for the biggest-ever Senate fundraising quarter two years ago. Overall, donations to Democratic Senate candidates more than tripled in 2020 over the same period in 2018.

And the money stretches much further down the ballot. Contributions to state legislative candidates have also tripled in 2020 compared to the same period in 2018. Democratic state parties, once largely ignored and underfunded, also drew more than seven times the number of donors over the last three months than they did over that same period in 2018.

Democratic donor enthusiasm has transformed Biden’s campaign from an effort that once looked in danger of running out of money during the primaries to a juggernaut that has overtaken a sitting president. By August, Biden had topped Trump, who once held a nine-figure cash lead, in both fundraising and spending.

“Small-dollar donors are showing an unparalleled commitment to change,” Erin Hill, ActBlue’s executive director, said in a statement shared with POLITICO. “In the final weeks of the 2020 election, they are showing up and investing in races across the board. This people-powered movement will expand the map for Democrats for years to come and sets a powerful precedent for civic engagement. Small-dollar donors are leading the way to victory.”

One telling statistic from ActBlue: More than half of the unique donors who gave in the third quarter gave more than once. That frequency shows how small-dollar donors can turn into a renewable resource for candidates, who can extract a few dollars at a time multiple times throughout a campaign.

Recurring donations, from people who sign up to give the same amount automatically on a regular basis, ballooned from $30 million in the third quarter of 2016 to $130 million in the third quarter of 2020.

ActBlue’s reach has also grown dramatically in 2020, with first-time donors comprising 70 percent of the contributors so far this election cycle.

Online giving is often tied to news events, keying off the anger, grief or joy that’s generated in major moments. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death triggered a one-day giving record on ActBlue, $70.6 million, while the day of the first presidential debate saw $43.2 million flow through the platform on its way to Biden and others. And the final day of the third fundraising quarter, Sept. 30, drew $66.9 million in donations via ActBlue, meaning the platform’s three biggest days all happened last month.

Republicans formed their own fundraising platform in 2019, launching WinRed as their answer to ActBlue. But while WinRed announced it own record-breaking totals this week, helping Republican candidates raise $623.5 million over the last quarter, it is starting from behind ActBlue.

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