A fundraising campaign conceived by the progressive think tank Data for Progress has raised more than $500,000 in just three days for under-the-radar state-level Democratic candidates who had previously been neglected by the party's national leadership—all by pointing small-dollar donors in the direction of those campaigns.
On Tuesday, the group identified eight Democrats running for state House and Senate seats in races that could shift the balance of power in their state legislatures, and urged progressives to donate $80 that would be spread equally across each of the candidates' coffers.
"The Obama era saw massive policy regression at the state level, and if Democrats can start winning control back they can make a real difference in protecting women’s health, staving off climate change and stopping Jim Crow 2.0 voter suppression," wrote Sean McElwee and Robert Wheel in their appeal for donations. "And if we can get donors to unite behind just one candidate in eight of the most flippable state legislative bodies (The Senate in Colorado, Wisconsin, Florida, New York, and Arizona, the House in Minnesota, Michigan, and Iowa) it’d have a massive knock-on effect."
"In some of those races the candidates only have around $20,000 to spend, so your dollars go a lot further than at the federal level," they added.
Through the fundraising platform ActBlue, within 36 hours the group's Give Smart initiative had raised $160,000 for the selected candidates—$20,000 for each, far surpassing Data for Progress's expectations.
We’ve heard amazing feedback from candidates about Give Smart - many had their biggest fundraising day yesterday! https://t.co/6pQNXlTWTJ
— Data for Progress (@DataProgress) October 17, 2018
The group began a second round of fundraising on Thursday, offering a new list of candidates provided by the grassroots group EveryDistrict—and had raised nearly $500,000 from more than 5,700 donors as of Friday afternoon. A third list of candidates was provided Friday by LaunchProgress, a progressive political action committee.
The wildly successful project drew praise on social media.
Wow. One of the state leg campaigns that got a push from @DataProgress had a total campaign budget of $42K. They've already gotten $15K from DfP donors. That's a huge impact on a race like that. https://t.co/PbPhbYBewq
— The Bride of Angus Johnstonstein (@studentactivism) October 18, 2018
If you have $20 left to give - this is a GENIUS way to get the biggest impact. It goes to state legislature races where $10K means the difference between winning and losing, and can tip a whole state legislature. https://t.co/SlK6FArBLQ
— Tommy Vietor (@TVietor08) October 18, 2018
But candidates and the think tank itself have questioned why such aggressive support for state-level Democrats was needed in the weeks leading up to an election that the party's leadership has called "the most important election of our lifetime."
"Everybody says, well, people are watching over this," McElwee told The Intercept. "Is anybody watching? ...Why weren't these moves being made?"
The Democratic Party has abdicated their responsibility so totally and people like @SeanMcElwee are stepping up and small donors are pouring into @DataProgress Give Smart initiative...change is only going to come from the bottom up these party bosses don't give a fuck
— impudent strumpet (@lilyuvyvert) October 19, 2018
Through its current partnership with LaunchProgress, Data for Progress is raising money for six young progressives in North Carolina, Michigan, and Ohio.
The candidates "are all running smart, aggressive, field-driven races: exactly the strategy that has led to upset wins by candidates like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez this cycle," wrote McElwee and Wheel.