This is the third in a six-part series on a strategy for building progressive power. Click here and here to find Part 1, Building Progressive Power: Politics Is Changing, and Part 2, Building Organizations That Build Progressive Power.
In earlier posts, I have discussed the fact that the netroots was changing the nature of politics, and that is partly true in the realm of money as well as media. We will probably never get to the day when wealthy individuals and corporations don't have major influence in American politics, but MoveOn.org and ActBlue have shown that tens of millions of dollars can be raised both from small contributors quickly and with very little cost. That is a truly profound breakthrough in building progressive power, because before internet fundraising, raising money from small contributors- through direct mail, phone solicitation or door-to-door canvassing- took huge amounts of start-up capital.
Can internet fundraising become all that is needed to fund progressive candidates and organizations? It's a huge part of a changing landscape, but is unlikely to ever be the only source needed. When competing against big special interests and the deep pockets of the right-wing movement, the need for money to fuel our movement will continue to be massive. Hopefully, we can one day soon pass public financing of federal campaigns, which will significantly lessen the role of big money in politics. But there will always be a very large budget needed for progressive groups, ad campaigns and other projects, so we're still going to need money from other sources than the internet.
In terms of big donors to progressive causes and candidates, I have heard a lot of complaints over the years, both by donors and recipients, about the randomness, trendiness and general lack of strategic thinking going into progressive giving patterns over the last 30 years. And there is some truth to all that. However, this picture is starting to change. About five years ago, I created a new project called the Progressive Donor Network (PDN). Its mission has been to create an informal, non-bureaucratic network of donors and raisers in progressive politics. We get them plenty of information and analysis about targeted races and states, organizations doing great work in those targeted places, current political trends, and what the holes are in terms of what's not being done that needs to be. And there are other important new donor networks that have been created since- the New Progressive Coalition and, especially important, the Democracy Alliance. These networks have made some missteps and haven't changed the world yet, but they have begun to change and reorient the culture of giving in a positive direction, and to aggregate progressive investment in important new strategic areas. For example, the Democracy Alliance was instrumental in moving urgently needed money in 2006 into several of the groups I mentioned in Part Two of this series as being strong, effective organizations.
I know many of my friends in the progressive community- especially at the grassroots level- are still frustrated by what they perceive in progressive giving patterns, but I hope grassroots organizers and progressive donors keep the lines of communication open. It's at the grassroots- and the netroots- that the best innovation is taking place. And there are a lot of very smart people who give money to progressive causes who are looking for ways to spend their money even more strategically and effectively. If grassroots organizers create accountable institutions that deliver results and reach out to the donor community, a marriage can be made that will be of benefit to everyone.
Mike Lux is the President of American Family Voices, an issue advocacy group sometimes described as the "free safety" of the progressive movement, and consults for progressive organizations and donors through his consulting firm, Progressive Strategies L.L.C.