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Level Playing Field?

Level Playing Field?

Brad Blue

By John Walters

Remember Brad Peacock, the progressive independent candidate for U.S. Senate? He’s running for the seat now held by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), in part because he’d like Sanders to leave the Senate and run for president in 2020.

It’s a long-odds proposition at best. But the odds got even longer when he was rejected by ActBlue, the online fundraising platform that enables small donations to Democratic candidates. And the organization’s rationale seems a little bit fishy.

ActBlue boasts of having processed more than $2 billion in donations since its founding in 2004, including massive amounts of money for Sanders. The New York Times says ActBlue “has led the movement toward small online political donations.”

Seems like a natural fit for a young, progressive upstart, right?

Well, no.

Peacock’s inquiry sparked an email exchange with ActBlue customer support specialist Makaila McPhee. She initially turned him down by explaining that “ActBlue has a strict policy of listing all Democrats in a race and not listing independent candidates that are running against Democrats.”

Someone should tell McPhee that there are two declared Democrats in the race: Jon Svitavsky and Folasade Adeluola. Sanders is an independent who rejects all party labels. By her reasoning, ActBlue should delist Sanders immediately.

When Peacock sought clarification, he got a fresh answer. “In Democratic primaries, we will list all candidates; however, those rules do not apply for independent candidates,” McPhee responded. “In very rare circumstances we will … list independent candidates. Sen. Sanders is one of those unique cases.”

McPhee implied that if Peacock ran as a Democrat, he might qualify. But no promises: “If you do … decide to run as a Democrat, please let us know, and we can continue the discussion!” she wrote.

Certainly, ActBlue is free to make its own decisions. But it occupies a valuable piece of real estate in the landscape of liberal fundraising. Exclusion is a big deal for a candidate such as Peacock and more than a little ironic for an organization whose mission is fostering the grassroots.

ActBlue makes its money by assessing a 3.95 percent fee on every donation. Sanders, with his legion of small donors, is a yuuuge moneymaker for ActBlue. In 2017, according to Federal Elections Commission filings, donations for Sanders netted ActBlue more than $100,000. Its rejection of Peacock smells like preferential treatment for a valued client.

I’d love to hear ActBlue’s response, but the organization failed to answer requests for comment.

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