Online fundraising is boosting candidate war chests in California

An online fundraising revolution has helped propel California congressional candidates to new heights.

Take two Democratic challengers for House seats in the state’s San Joaquin Valley, Michael Eggman and Amanda Renteria. In their uphill bids to unseat GOP incumbents, both have relied on ActBlue, a Cambridge, Mass.-based outfit that describes itself as an “online toolset” connecting donors to candidates and causes.

“Michael finds support from regular citizens in the form of low-dollar donations, and ActBlue has been a helpful tool in allowing us to significantly out-raise our opponent among small dollar donors,” Eggman’s campaign manager Eric Goldman said in an email.

All told, Eggman has raised $1.1 million. Of this, more than $107,000 has arrived via contributions processed through ActBlue, often, in relatively small amounts.

Eggman’s campaign had $397,053 on hand as of Sept. 30, according to the most recent Federal Election Commission report. Republican Rep. Jeff Denham had $1.5 million on hand. Denham’s political consultant Dave Gilliard said Tuesday that the GOP lawmaker’s campaign has a “very aggressive” online fundraising component that has raised $81,000 so far this year.

Renteria, running against Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif., in a district south of Denham’s, reported having $433,836 on hand as of Sept. 30. Valadao reported having $1.1 million available. Since she started campaigning, Renteria has raised $1.4 million. Of this, more than $140,000 has been directed to the campaign through ActBlue.

“The principle of compelling donors to contribute when there is increased urgency, like a big deadline, hasn’t changed whether you’re hosting a donor at a pancake breakfast or sending email,” ActBlue Executive Director Erin Hill said in an email. “But online fundraising is continually evolving.”

Two years ago, for instance, Hill noted that 4 percent of the contributions made through ActBlue came from a mobile device such as a Smartphone. Now it’s 25 percent, she said. No single Republican-affiliated entity dominates the online contribution market the way ActBlue does for the Democrats, GOP officials say.

ActBlue has grown dramatically since it was launched in 2004 by a physicist and a computer scientist. In September 2012, it reported processing 463,044 contributions totaling $21.8 million. This September, the number of contributions had jumped to 893,631 and the total reached $38.1 million.

ActBlue has processed donations for 85 different California House candidates, in both general and primary elections. Sometimes, the online tools that reach beyond the borders of a single congressional district may be most helpful to a challenger still trying to establish his or her own local fundraising network. The remotely piloted money helps fuel a campaign, but it can also open a candidate to criticism.

More than half of all itemized contributions raised by Renteria this election cycle, for instance, come from outside California, records compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics show. Valadao has relied on out-of-state individual contributors for only 8 percent of his total, a contrast he implicitly underscores when he goes on the offensive.

“Amanda Renteria’s campaign is being bankrolled by D.C. liberals and Bay Area environmentalists,” Valadao’s campaign spokesman Tal Eslick said Tuesday, declaring that ActBlue is a “Massachusetts-based fundraising clearinghouse used by liberal campaigns.”

Valadao, in turn, receives considerable contributions from political action committees located outside of his rural district.

Long-standing incumbents may not need specialized fundraising tools quite as much as newcomers, unless they face a high-profile challenge that’s mobilized Democrats nationwide

Veteran San Joaquin Valley lawmaker Jim Costa, D-Calif., for instance, has raised $1.2 million this election cycle and his long-shot Republican opponent, Johnny Tachera, has little cash on hand. The race is not considered competitive and only a pittance of Costa’s fundraising total, less than $1,000, has come via ActBlue.

By contrast, freshman Rep. Ami Bera in the Sacramento Valley is one of the highest-profile Democratic targets this election cycle. As he battles well-funded Republican challenger and former House member Doug Ose, Bera has scooped up more than $211,000 in contributions directed through ActBlue.

Whether the methods are old-school or newfangled, all serious candidates are continuing their furious fundraising pace through Election Day.

In the days following the end of the third-quarter fundraising deadline, for instance, Modesto native and “Star Wars” creator George W. Lucas, Jr., donated $2,600 to Eggman’s campaign. Denham collected last-minute contributions, like a $2,600 donation from the Table Mountain Rancheria east of Fresno.