Sinema can’t quit the powerful online Democratic fundraising machine

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema is no longer a Democrat. But her willingness to truly quit the party has its limits.

The independent Arizona senator, who POLITICO reported has been deriding fellow Democratic senators in recent private fundraisers with Republican donors, this month rolled out a new online fundraising page with Anedot, a platform that has also been used by Republican and third-party candidates.

But her ActBlue page is still active and in use by her campaign committee. The Democratic fundraising platform is the most important fundraising portal in all of politics, and access to it can mean a substantial small-dollar fundraising advantage.

Sinema’s continued presence on the platforms shows the limits of her disdain for the Democratic Party: She might dislike sitting next to the party’s senators during lunch, but she’s still willing to take money from its small-dollar donors. Access to ActBlue could be hugely beneficial if Sinema runs for reelection — and in a three-way race in a state with a large independent vote share, Arizona’s seat could well tip control of a closely divided Senate.

An ActBlue spokesperson confirmed this week that the Arizona senator is still eligible to use the site as an independent with a record of caucusing with Democrats. Sinema was a substantial fundraiser on ActBlue during her 2018 Senate campaign, bringing in more than $11.7 million via the platform that cycle, according to FEC data, although her small-dollar support has largely dried up in the past few years. Between her Dec. 9 announcement that she was leaving the Democratic Party and the end of the year, she had raised a bit shy of $25,000 via the platform.

ActBlue — which has long served candidates facing each other in primaries — has looked to position itself as a neutral actor within the party’s broader fundraising ecosystem. The Arizona senator, who has yet to formally declare a 2024 run, puts that to a new test.

“At the end of the day, ActBlue is an incredibly important technology platform inside an incredibly formidable big tent,” ActBlue CEO Regina Wallace-Jones said in an interview with POLITICO last month. A longtime tech executive and former city councilor from East Palo Alto, Calif., Wallace-Jones was named ActBlue’s new leader in January.

She added: “It would be inappropriate in any way for us to be first movers bearing who is on the platform versus not. And we do have partners inside that tent that we will be taking cues from. So I do not imagine that we will be making that kind of a statement, and I do know that we’re in deep communications with others who have decision-making authority.”

Adding a new fundraising platform is a sign that Sinema is preparing for the possibility of running for reelection, likely as an independent. A spokesperson confirmed Sinema’s campaign is currently using both Anedot and ActBlue, but declined to address what that could mean for her 2024 plans.

Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) announced his own Senate campaign in January, and is widely viewed as the likely Democratic nominee. No major Republicans have declared they are running, although former gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake has expressed interest.

ActBlue’s policies, which pre-date Wallace-Jones’ time at the head of the organization, say that independent or third-party incumbents can remain on the platform provided they have a “proven record” of caucusing with Democrats. Sinema no longer attends weekly caucus meetings, although she accepted Democrats’ committee assignments.

Sen. Angus King, another independent who caucuses with the Democrats, is permitted to use ActBlue under the organization’s policies. His campaign website links to the platform NationBuilder, although he also has an active ActBlue page. Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent though also a former Democratic presidential candidate, is among ActBlue’s most prolific fundraisers.

Compared to other fundraising platforms, ActBlue is a unique tool in part because so many candidates use it, which allows campaigns to split donations with ease. For repeat donors, who make up a large share of the Democratic donor base, it saves credit card information, making transactions easier.

“So many times where we would test using one processor or another, and just every time ActBlue would raise more for a variety of reasons,” said Taryn Rosenkranz, a longtime Democratic fundraising professional and founder of New Blue Interactive. “We never found anything that could net more for folks.”

ActBlue also currently hosts Marianne Williamson in her longshot bid against incumbent President Joe Biden. In rare cases, the platform has kicked off candidates, such as Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-N.J.) who switched to the Republican party in 2019.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his running mate Sen. Kamala Harris participate in a virtual grassroots fundraiser at the Hotel DuPont in Wilmington, Del. | AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

2020 elections

How ActBlue has transformed Democratic politics

ActBlue has grown exponentially since its launch in 2004. The platform, which hosts federal, state and local candidates as well as progressive-aligned committees and nonprofits, reported processing donations from more than 7.4 million distinct donors last cycle.

In the 2022 calendar year, ActBlue processed more than $1.4 billion for federal campaigns and causes. That’s more than twice the roughly $620 million raised at the federal level through WinRed, the Republican counterpart that launched in 2019, according to the groups’ filings with the FEC.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this report misstated when Sinema launched her Anedot fundraising page.

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