New Republican site WinRed seeks small donors to compete with ActBlue

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(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Republicans launched a new fundraising platform this week, aiming to attract small-dollar donors and convert President Donald Trump’s popularity into success for other GOP candidates. 

WinRed, which officially went live on Monday, has been hailed as the conservative alternative to ActBlue, the site that Democrats used to raise more than $1 billion during the 2018 midterm cycle. The site also goes beyond its liberal alternative in collecting data on donors, which it will add to Republicans’ already-robust Data Trust.

The premise of WinRed is simple: The site is a conduit for donations, allowing individuals to contribute to a number of conservative candidates or causes. Individual donors may give to their favorite candidate, split contributions among several candidates or set up recurring donations for a period of time. Once a user makes a donation, the site suggests other candidates or causes the donor might want to consider.

The platform is a joint venture of the Trump Campaign, the Republican National Committee and the Senate and House GOP party committees. It was immediately praised by conservative outside groups, including the Congressional Leadership Fund. 

For years, Republicans have called for a central, online conservative fundraising mechanism. That reached a fever pitch after the 2018 midterms, when liberal candidates and groups raised $1.26 billion using ActBlue. Democrats outspent Republicans by more than $500 million during that cycle and flipped 41 House seats to take control of the body.

Online fundraising is seen by many as a way to gather small-dollar donors, who are often seen as a representation of grassroots support. ActBlue was created in 2004, building on former Vermont governor Howard Dean’s fundraising strategies during that year’s presidential primaries. 

When it comes to small-dollar fundraising, Republicans have typically lagged behind their Democratic counterparts. Seven of the 10 House members with the greatest share of funds coming from donors who gave less than $200 are Democrats. Among current members of Congress, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) are the best at attracting these contributions, with 81 and 75 percent of their respective fundraising totals coming from small-dollar donors.

An exception to that pattern, however, is Trump, whose campaign took in $3.3 million, nearly 45 percent of its funds, from small-dollar donors during the first quarter of 2019. There is hope among Republicans that the president’s presence on WinRed will inspire his supporters to donate to down-ballot Republicans as well, boosting the party’s chances of keeping the Senate and taking back the House in 2020.

“A unified GOP fundraising platform will allow us to harness the enthusiasm for President Trump’s agenda, build a long-term small-dollar network and win in 2020,” said NRSC Chairman Todd Young in a statement.

WinRed’s blog says the site was “modeled after years of studying ActBlue,” and the two fundraising platforms have similar fee structures. ActBlue subtracts at a rate of 3.95 percent per donation, while WinRed takes a flat fee of 30 cents plus 3.8 percent. The Republican site runs on Revv, the same online payment software the Trump campaign uses.

The new GOP platform distinguishes itself from its Democratic counterpart, however, when it comes to data. According to the site’s privacy policy, it reserves the right to collect identifying information including emails, phone numbers, voter registration and affiliation information, and information from registrants’ social media posts.

That data will be managed by Data Trust, a data warehouse operation that allows GOP campaigns to share voter lists and other information without concerns about illegal coordination.

“WinRed not only will greatly expand Republicans’ access to online donations, but it will also help Data Trust improve the quality of political data available to the Republican and conservative ecosystem,” said Data Trust Chairman Henry Barbour in a statement.

The Republican National Committee paid more than $7 million to Data Trust during the 2018 midterm cycle and an additional $1.5 million in 2019 so far.

Voter data is an area in which the Democratic establishment has comparatively struggled. While the Republicans developed Data Trust, individual Democratic campaigns were largely creating and maintaining their own lists, and state and national parties were out of step with one another. After significant infighting, the party launched a data exchange modeled on Data Trust in February, but that exchange is not linked with ActBlue.

WinRed first registered with the FEC as Patriot Pass in January, but the name was criticized for being too similar to the New England football team. The committee refiled as WinRed in April.

Some questions about the platform remain. Trump is the only candidate who has announced he is using the site, and Republican candidates are not required to jump on board.

Transparency is another open question. Conduits face more disclosure requirements than other entities. They must report names and addresses of all contributors to the FEC, as well as occupational data if contributions exceed $200. ActBlue fully discloses all contributors, including occupation and employer data, regardless of donation size. WinRed did not respond to requests for comment on the specifics of its disclosure practices. The site’s blog says it will provide “the necessary reporting to be FEC compliant.”

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