Will Patriot Pass be the GOP’s answer to ActBlue?

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As Democratic small donor giving has risen in recent years, ActBlue became a national player in political fundraising. ActBlue, a nonprofit
which offers online fundraising tools for Democratic and liberal campaigns and organizations, has been a massive success and is used by many Democratic campaigns. The company doesn’t fundraise for any candidate, but acts as a conduit for donations and provides software to campaigns for them to fundraise.

In response to the Democratic dominance of small donors that ActBlue provides, Republicans revealed on Jan. 21 that they will be launching a similar platform called Patriot Pass. This software would create a central tool for small donors to contribute to Republican candidates of their choice.

Gerrit Lansing, former top digital strategist for the National Republican Campaign Committee and cofounder of the fundraising platform Revv, helped plan Patriot Pass.

The idea developed during the 2018 midterm election, during which Democratic campaigns, mostly through the ActBlue software, collected almost $374.9 million from small individual donors compared to the Republicans who only received around $114.9 million. Small individual donors accounted for 23 percent of the total raised for Democrats and 10 percent for Republicans in 2018.

“We thought, ‘How do we put something together to combat that problem,’” Lansing said.

He explained that Patriot Pass was formed from the four biggest companies that raised the most in the past election cycle.

“It’s a carrot operation,” Lansing said. “We want to create a set of incentives … the best tech, the best features,” to attract campaigns and donors to use it.

Since ActBlue has been around for nearly 15 years, it gave the Republicans forming Patriot Pass a successful model to follow, Lansing explained.

“Time affords us the ability to study them … We copied a lot of stuff they do,” he said.

However, while it’s similar, Lansing said that he believes Patriot Pass is a “better model” and offers “better functionality.” Their model is better he said because the program’s incorporation of Data Trust which holds RNC voter data. The functionality of Patriot Pass is better than ActBlue’s, Lansing said, because of the use of Stripe, an online payment processing system, which he notes is used by ApplePay.  

He recognized that ActBlue has a significant head start in terms of the connections to campaign and organizations and the amount of money it processes.

“It’s going to take a long time to catch up to them,” he said. “Time is going to be needed.”

But, Lansing cited small donor excitement on the Republican side and that Patriot Pass will “multiply that energy.”

“[There is] tons of energy, tons of desire, tons of donors,” he said.

Patriot Pass will be rolled out in phases and Lansing said that the Republican committees will start using the program in February and that candidates and campaigns will have access by the 2020 election season. The program has received the backing of top Republicans and Trump aides.

Federal law only requires organizations disclose donors who give over $200, however ActBlue discloses every donation, even lose under $200, to the FEC. It is unclear as of this writing whether Patriot Pass will follow suit.

ActBlue has established itself as a tough organization to beat, especially after capturing attention as the platform used by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in his 2016 Democratic primary campaign. Since its creation in 2004, the company claims it has processed more than $3.1 billion for Democrats and liberal causes, on state, local and federal levels.

In the 2018 election cycle, 1,484 federal candidates received $723 million from donors through ActBlue’s platform, according to data provided by ActBlue.  

ActBlue reported that they saw nearly 5 million unique donors, for both state and federal elections, use their platform in the 2018 cycle. The organization noted that the average donation size was $39.67. Also, a majority of individual donations to both Democratic House (54.9 percent) and Senate candidates (61.3 percent) in 2018 were made through ActBlue’s platform.

Some of the tightest races in the 2018 were fueled by small donor money, which primarily came through ActBlue, and exemplified Republican struggles in that area. In the Texas Senate race, for example, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) brought in more than $36.8 million from donors giving less than $200. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), on the other hand, only received just over $14 million from small donors. Cruz won despite the gap in fundraising.

The Democratic small donor enthusiasm extended to the House races as well. For example, in knocking off incumbent former Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.), Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kan.) collected almost $1.2 million in donations below $200. Yoder received just $64,442 in small individual donations. In New Jersey, Rep. Andy Kim (D) got more than $1.2 in small donor money on his way to beating incumbent Republican Tom MacArthur, who had only $54,791 in small individual donations.

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