ActBlue, the Democratic online fundraising powerhouse group, is asking federal election officials whether it can set up a system for allowing fundraising on behalf of a female presidential candidate before knowing who, exactly, the money would go to.
This is how it would work: Democrats would chip in $5, $10, $50, $100 for a generic, to-be-named female candidate. If, say, Hillary Clinton or U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren got the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, she would get whatever money had piled up.
But if, say, former senator Jim Webb was the Democrats' nominee instead, the accumulated money would revert elsewhere -- perhaps to a group like EMILY's List.
That cash could give a female candidate a little more incentive to run -- and the Democratic establishment a little extra motivation to rally behind a female candidate. That's ActBlue's hope, anyway.
"If someone has a strong preference for a woman, but not for one candidate over the other," says Steven Gold, ActBlue's general counsel, "this is a way they could express that preference." ActBlue executive director Erin Hill describes it as letting small-dollar donors shape the "marketplace" for candidates.
The nonprofit ActBlue has received FEC approval for other unusual fundraising strategies. The group was the first to establish "draft campaigns" to raise money for candidates who had not announced they were running. Warren, for example, had more than $100,000 in ActBlue -- collected donations waiting for her from one "Draft Warren" fund alone -- when she got into the 2012 race for the Senate.
Of course, gender can be a tricky thing. ActBlue told the FEC in its application that it "looks forward to the day when a transgender candidate mounts a viable presidential campaign, but for purposes of this opinion, we respectfully request that the Commission treat gender as though it is easily determined."
Founded in 2004, ActBlue has figured out how to use the Internet to extract vast sums of money from Democratic donors. Donations can be as small as a dollar, and the mean donation last election cycle was just $45, but ActBlue has managed to raise more than $680 million in its decade of existence. The platform's first great innovation was making it trivially easy for campaigns of any size to tap into state-of-the-art online fundraising technology and a networked base of ready donors. It's been pushing the boundaries of what's possible with small-dollar, digital donations ever since.
Republicans have tried to set up ActBlue equivalents over the years, but none have stuck.
The FEC declined to comment on ActBlue's application as the request is still pending.