New PAC to Collect Donations Before Dem Candidates Announce '08 Bids

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Political donors no longer have to wait through the coy posturing or Hamlet-like indecision of would-be presidential candidates to contribute money to their potential campaigns.

Starting this week, ActBlue, a political action committee devoted to raising money through the Internet for Democratic candidates, will become a repository for contributions to presidential candidates — from the probable to the unlikely to the yet unknown.

The Federal Election Commission, in an advisory opinion last week, ruled that ActBlue and other groups like it could collect money for would-be candidates even if they still had not declared their intentions.

The money would be publicly reported to the FEC and on ActBlue's Web site, It would be held in a bank account and released to the candidate the moment he or she filed officially for the presidential nomination.

"The commission recognizes that it is an innovative fundraising activity," said FEC Chairman Michael Toner. "Very significantly, it facilitates the raising of those contributions early in the presidential race. ... It could play a role in whether a candidate decides to run for the presidency."

If a potential candidate ultimately decides not to run, ActBlue would turn over any money raised on that candidate's behalf to the Democratic National Committee. Other committees could offer to give the money to other political groups, provided that donors are informed at the moment they donate.

ActBlue founder Matt DeBergalis said prospective presidential candidates tend to concentrate on lining up well-connected fundraisers before deciding whether to take the plunge into presidential politics.

"By allowing us to collect contributions earmarked for a prospective candidate, we give these people (small-dollar donors) an opportunity to participate in the process," he said.

ActBlue and other similar groups are clearing houses for political contributions. Federal law permits individual contributors to bundle political donations to a number of candidates and to give them to a middleman or conduit who passes the money through to the various political campaigns.

The Internet has created new opportunities for such bundling by letting any political activist set up a donor network. "We know that individuals all have some sphere of influence," DeBergalis said. "We wanted to empower that. We wanted to activate literally millions of individual fundraisers."

In the current two-year election cycle, ActBlue distributed $10.8 million to Democratic Senate and congressional candidates and political committees. One of the biggest beneficiaries of ActBlue bundling was Jim Webb, the Democratic candidates for Senate in Virginia, who received $893,000 from more than 16,300 donors.