I raised $5,701.02 from 76 donors for my District 3 Senate campaign by using ActBlue to collect contributions online. That’s over a quarter of my campaign fund, with an average donation of about $75. Initiated Measure 22, the Anti-Corruption Act, just made raising that amount from relatively small donors on ActBlue illegal in South Dakota.
ActBlue acts as a political action committee, collecting donations through its website, then bundling those contributions into weekly checks for candidates using the system. ActBlue collects a small processing fee on each transaction, which it deducts before sending the balance to the candidate. The Secretary of State’s office directs candidates to report the total they receive in checks from ActBlue as a PAC contribution. Candidates using ActBlue do not have to report the individual donors who send them money via ActBlue, nor do they have to report the ActBlue processing fee as a campaign expense.
As I reported yesterday, the Anti-Corruption Act puts limits on PAC donations to South Dakota candidates where previously there were none. Under the Anti-Corruption Act, PACs like ActBlue can give no more than $4,000 per calendar year to gubernatorial candidates, $2,000 to Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General candidates, $1,000 to other statewide candidates, and $750 to Legislative and county candidates.
I raised over $750 on ActBlue in my first three days of online fundraising in February.
The Anti-Corruption Act can’t ex post facto criminalize the thousands we raised on ActBlue before the election. However, I assume that, since the new contribution caps are law now, if anyone sends me over $750 via ActBlue before January 1, I’ll have to send it back.
The answer here is not to throw out the Anti-Corruption Act or its new campaign finance limits. The answer is to change how the Secretary of State interprets contributions sent via ActBlue. The $5,701.02 I raised online came from 76 identifiable individual donors. I have the spreadsheet, complete with their address, occupations, and employers, ready to show the Secretary of State that not one of them exceeded $750. ActBlue didn’t make a contribution to my campaign; it provided a service, for which I paid $224.50 (a 3.9% fee for a secure online donation portal? Worth it!). ActBlue didn’t act as a political action committee; it acted as a vendor, just like PayPal.
If the goal of the Anti-Corruption Act is transparency, then we should require candidates to report the individual donors using ActBlue as a service provider. Otherwise, the Anti-Corruption Act will severely curtail the ability of South Dakota candidates to use an online fundraising tool that helps them compete against candidates enjoying big-money donations from larger corporate PACs.