Politico‘s lead story today tracks how both progressive and conservative activists are using intramural fundraising threats to challenge the party establishment.
For Democrats, the fight is about accountability for campaign promises. For Republicans, sophisticated grassroots fundraising is a tool in the ideological squabbles over new congressional candidates and party leaders. The story suggests conservative strategists have led the way:
For months, most of the action was on the Republican side, where conservative activists targeted the National Republican Senatorial Committee for its recruitment of moderate candidates and the National Republican Congressional Committee for its role in supporting a liberal GOP nominee in an upstate New York special election. But now Democratic officials are also feeling the lash, with the [DNC] coming under fire for allegedly not working hard enough on a recent Maine ballot initiative to repeal same-sex marriage and the [DCCC] taking flak for supporting incumbents who voted against the health care bill. In each case, activists have dispensed with the pleasantries and gone straight to the committees’ wallets–a move guaranteed to raise alarms at party headquarters.
Actually, liberal online activists have been using donor strikes for a long time, around issues ranging from torture to campaign finance reform to health care. (And since Democratic candidates rely more on low dollar online donations than the G.O.P, these efforts can get more traction on the Left.) What’s different now, however, is that the current wave of strikes and rumblings on gay rights might turn into an ad-hoc, financially relevant coalition.
Unlike other donor strikes by a single blog or organization, the "Don’t Ask, Don’t Give" campaign is swiftly attracting allies and attention in the political media — including that lead Politico article today. (Obama’s top aides pay attention to Politico, even though they claim otherwise, as David Plouffe’s new book revealed.) Some of the allies are explicitly striking for gay rights, like blogger and pundit Jane Hamsher, The Stranger‘s Dan Savage and blogger Pam Spaulding, while others are pushing strikes against Democratic Party committees based on broader grievances about Democrats voting against core party priorities, such as health care. Daily Kos blogger Markos Moulitsas recently told his readers to "skip any donations to the DCCC," in retaliation for the House Dems who tried to scuttle health care reform. (See more from my colleague Ari Berman on those "Just Say No Democrats.")
In all the progressive debates about the Obama era, from wonky panels to the Sunday shows to local coffee shops, the atavistic question is how to support The President and push for bolder reform. Fundraising activism is only one tool — not even viable for most citizens — but it increasingly looks like a way to amplify policy pressure and get Washington’s attention between elections.
Update: ActBlue’s Adrian Arroyo writes in to stress that while boycotts are "largely invisible," groups like DFA and PCCC are using ActBlue to run more targeted fundraising campaigns to address lawmakers. "Since Monday, they’ve raised over $100,000 to reward Democrats who took a risky stand for healthcare and fund advertising campaigns to pressure those who voted to kill it," he writes. "It’s not so much a boycott as a change of venue," Arroyo argues, crediting efforts to pressure Sen. Landrieu and Rep. Sustak for generating "rapid response" and political consequences in the evolving health care debate.
With research by Shakthi Jothianandan