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Democrats’ contempt for Trump fuels an online cash surge

January 9, 2020 GMT
FILE - In this Dec. 19, 2019 file photo, Democratic presidential candidates from left, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and businessman Tom Steyer participate during a Democratic presidential primary debate in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
FILE - In this Dec. 19, 2019 file photo, Democratic presidential candidates from left, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and businessman Tom Steyer participate during a Democratic presidential primary debate in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats’ online fundraising behemoth ActBlue routed more than $1 billion in campaign contributions to the party’s candidates and causes in 2019, a groundswell that dwarfs what it helped raise during the same period of any past election cycle.

The platform allows grassroots activists and big-dollar donors alike to chip in $5 to their favorite presidential contender or give large sums to party committees, all with just a few taps of a smartphone or computer mouse.

It played an instrumental role in routing record-breaking sums to Democratic contenders during the 2018 midterms, which helped the party retake the U.S. House. And it has long been eyed with envy by Republicans, who have sought to replicate the model — so far, with less success.

But the surge in online donations routed through the platform in 2019 far outstrips the volume and dollar amounts it has handled in the past, speaking to the level of Democratic enthusiasm to oust President Donald Trump in 2020 and drive his fellow Republicans from office.

“It’s an indication of what’s to come and the excitement we are seeing from the grassroots,” said Erin Hill, ActBlue’s executive director. “It’s empowerment of our small-dollar universe, who feel like they are playing a very vital role, backing candidates and causes they believe in. It will have an impact on our country.”

In 2019, the platform more than doubled what it helped raise at this point during the 2018 elections, while reaping fivefold what it received during the same period in the 2016 cycle.

That breaks down to $1.05 billion spread out across 34.6 million contributions that were routed to 13,314 political committees, campaigns and organizations, according to year-end figures provided by ActBlue. The average contribution size last year was $30.50.

Use of the platform by Democrats has increased exponentially since the same period in the 2016 cycle, when just 3,590 committees and groups used the platform . The same goes for donations, which have rocketed up from the $206.9 million collected by the end of 2015.

Hill said Dec. 31 was the biggest day for the platform last year, when it took in $20 million given through about a half-million contributions.

Yet in the era of Trump, whose presidency has further polarized an already divided country, Republicans, too, have seen a surge in online contributions from grassroots donors. WinRed, the GOP’s long awaited answer to ActBlue, reported raising $101 million during the second half of last year. And most of the money was raised after the House’s Oct. 31 party-line vote that paved the way for Trump’s impeachment.

Still, WinRed was unveiled last year. ActBlue has been in existence for well over a decade. And unlike on the GOP side, where there are multiple online donation providers competing, ActBlue is almost universally adopted by the party.

And while Trump’s reelection effort may have benefited from impeachment, so, too, have Democrats.

For some, Trump has incited them to give more. Mary Joan Oexmann, a Democratic donor and ActBlue user, said a critical mass of people giving small contributions can be a major force for change. So far, she says, she’s given to numerous 2020 White House contenders, including Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and California billionaire Tom Steyer.

“I can’t even say his name — it just churns my stomach,” said Oexmann, who splits her time between Florida and South Carolina, referring to Trump. “We are at a time in history where we really have to be engaged and participate.”

“It’s the power of small changes over time,” she continued. “And I think we have to think of these small donations as significant, real and important.”

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