Kyrsten Sinema Is Still on ActBlue — For Now
January 24, 2023 · 5:32 PM EST
Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema may not be a Democrat anymore, but she still has access to one of Democrats’ premier campaign tools: ActBlue.
The online fundraising platform that has helped Democrats dominate the small-dollar money game for the past decade is still hosting the independent senator’s donation page.
However, that may change as the election cycle progresses, and Sinema’s ultimate ActBlue fate could depend on how the national Democratic Party approaches a potential campaign. A source familiar with the situation tells Inside Elections that ActBlue is monitoring the evolving relationship between Sinema and Democratic party leadership.
“ActBlue has become probably the biggest piece of infrastructure for any Senate race for raising money,” says Taryn Rosenkranz, a longtime Democratic digital fundraiser and founder of New Blue Interactive. “It would be a big hit if she wasn’t able to use it.”
Leadership, though, seems in no hurry to render a decision. Sen. Dick Durbin, the second-highest ranking Senate Democrat, recently told Punchbowl News it was “too soon” to say whether the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee should back the eventual Democratic nominee in Arizona. And Sen. Gary Peters, the chairman of the DSCC, told Punchbowl that “we have to wait to see what happens.”
Sinema, who often frustrated party faithful in the Senate with her objections to pieces of President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda and her opposition to removing the filibuster, left the Democratic Party last year and does not currently caucus with either party, though she has maintained committee assignments given to her by Democrats.
She has not said if she will seek re-election in 2024 as an independent. But Rep. Ruben Gallego, a Democratic congressman from Phoenix, has already announced he will challenge her in the general election, setting up a potential three-way contest with the highest of stakes — control of the Senate — on the line.
Arizona is one of the most evenly divided states in the country, with an Inside Elections Baseline score of just R+1.8. That leaves Democrats with little room for error when they are already defending more vulnerable seats in West Virginia, Montana, and Ohio — and can only afford to lose one seat at most to maintain their majority. An independent Sinema candidacy could play spoiler, siphoning away Democratic-leaning voters and allowing the GOP nominee to win Arizona with just a plurality.
The ActBlue platform has become ubiquitous among Democratic candidates and causes and has processed nearly $12 billion in donations since launching in 2004, including $6.5 billion in the 2020 and 2022 election cycles. It’s been called Democrats’ “not-so-secret weapon” and has been the source of frustration and baseless conspiracy from conservatives unable to keep pace financially. (The GOP unveiled their competing product, WinRed, in 2020.)
Over the course of her political career, Sinema has raised $19 million using ActBlue, including $12 million during the 2018 Senate campaign (she raised $22 million overall that cycle). Since 2019 she has raised $4.7 million on ActBlue, which she can put toward a 2024 Senate campaign.
There are political and practical consequences to not being on ActBlue. Other platforms often have higher processing fees. There’s a lack of connection to Democratic candidates, who often use ActBlue to fundraise together. And the user experience on other platforms can be unfamiliar to Democrat donors, who have grown used to ActBlue’s Amazon-like interface that doesn’t require entering credit card information each time.
Who’s In and Who’s Out
ActBlue does not publicize precise criteria for access. The website’s “Can I use ActBlue?” page says that “the first requirement is that you’re a Democrat or working for progressive causes.” And the FAQ page states that “only Democrats (not Republicans) can use our tools to fundraise.”
But the company does have a history of allowing independent candidates to use the platform.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent, has used ActBlue to raise hundreds of millions across his presidential and Senate campaigns.
In some cases the candidate need not even be a liberal or progressive. Last year, ActBlue allowed Senate candidate Evan McMullin, a conservative former House GOP staffer running as an independent against Utah Sen. Mike Lee, to use the platform. McMullin — who also worked with top Democratic political consultants and was backed by the state Democratic Party — did not treat ActBlue as his main fundraising platform, using it to raise just under $1 million out of $8 million overall.
But in both of those instances, the candidate using ActBlue was running in a head-to-head contest against a Republican, with no Democrat in the race. In Sanders’ case, the democratic socialist has consistently won but declined the Democratic nomination.
A more apt comparison to Sinema is Maine Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats. Both of King’s elections have featured a Democratic candidate and a Republican candidate, creating the possibility of splitting the Democratic vote and allowing a Republican to win. But unlike Sinema, King has always been widely popular in Maine. He also has caucused with the Democrats, and in both of his runs has had at least the tacit support of the national Democratic Party apparatus, which declined to back either of his weak Democratic opponents.
ActBlue allows King to raise money on the site, but he rarely takes advantage of that access. King began using the platform ahead of his 2018 re-election but has raised just $58,000 on it (out of $6 million raised during that period). He currently uses nonpartisan platform NationBuilder to process online donations.
Sinema, an independent with a penchant for breaking with the Democratic Party and facing a credible Democratic opponent who is likely to be well-funded, does not clearly resemble other high-profile independents on the platform.
ActBlue has removed candidates before. New Jersey Rep. Jeff Van Drew was kicked off after switching parties in 2019. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was booted in 2021, after a state report accused him of repeated workplace harassment — he later resigned.
And in 2018, ActBlue revoked Democratic New York state Senate nominee Amanda Kirchgessner’s access after she described herself in an interview as a “progressive Republican.” Kirchgessner, who was running against a GOP incumbent, had also been accused of domestic abuse by her ex-wife.
If Democratic leadership does ultimately back Gallego, and ActBlue removes Sinema’s access, it won’t be the first campaign tool she will have lost. In December, The Huffington Post reported that the Democratic Party was planning on cutting Sinema off from the voter database NGP VAN, another cornerstone of modern Democratic political campaigns.
An email sent to the Sinema campaign received an automated reply indicating the campaign was not responding to press inquiries.
“There’s a little bit of security and trust [from being on the platform] now,” said Rosenkranz, who compared ActBlue to a Good Housekeeping seal of approval. “That removal of the ActBlue seal does take away that you’re a Democrat in some way. It’s very blatant, it’s very obvious and so there’s a trust factor that’s taken away.”