NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union released data today showing its supporters are a key constituency in the 2020 elections, accounting for nearly $463 million of donations to Democratic candidates, committees, and PACs; and $19 million to Republicans – including $1.7 million to President Trump’s campaign. ACLU supporters’ contributions represent between 20 and 30 percent of all Democratic fundraising, making them a key backbone of political engagement this cycle.
“ACLU supporters are deeply engaged in this election,” said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero. “Candidates and parties are now on notice: Expand and defend civil liberties and civil rights, or ignore us at your own peril. The tables have turned from 30 plus years ago, when then-candidate George H.W. Bush assailed his opponent Michael Dukakis for being a ‘card-carrying member of the ACLU.’ Today, ACLU supporters aren’t just carrying cards, they’re carrying a giant share of this cycle’s total giving.”
ACLU data experts analyzed publicly-reported information from the Federal Elections Commission on contributions greater than $200 made to presidential campaign committees, congressional candidate committees, and political action committees. ACLU membership includes 1.8 million supporters, a fourfold increase since the 2016 election; they are now a major political fundraising and engagement powerhouse.
As a matter of organizational policy, the ACLU does not endorse or oppose any candidate for office, nor does it provide funding to candidates or parties directly. The ACLU does actively educate supporters about the civil rights and civil liberties records of candidates, and works to inform and increase election turnout. The ACLU also works to expand voting rights through policy change. In 2018, the ACLU sponsored three ballot referenda in Florida, Michigan, and Nevada, with over $11 million in investments, which re-enfranchised over 2 million new voters eligible for the 2020 election. It is the most significant re-enfanchisement since 18 year olds became eligible to vote.
“Vice President Biden boasted about breaking records for online political fundraising following the announcement of Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate, but the fact is that it’s ACLU supporters who are powering his election – providing one-fifth of all the money he’s raised thus far, “ said Romero. “This data shows that ACLU supporters are more energized than ever before, and our constituency is more politically potent than any other moment in our 100-year history. To the extent any official — Democrat or Republican — wants to mumble their way through a civil liberties and civil rights agenda in 2020, this is their wake-up call. More than 328,000 unique ACLU supporters have given more than $200 to a political cause this cycle. If you were to look at gifts under $200, there would be at least 550,000 more ACLU supporters who have skin in this game. It’s clear that the power of the ACLU supporter base is among the many, not the privileged few.”
Since February 2019, ACLU supporters and volunteers have mobilized around the presidential election. ACLU volunteers pressed likely Democratic nominee Joe Biden to evolve on the Hyde Amendment, prompting a welcome commitment from Biden last summer before the primaries to finally support repealing the ban on publicly funded abortions. Vice President Biden also made clear commitments to our volunteers to cut the federal prison population by 50 percent and to remove local law enforcement from federal immigration enforcement operations. The ACLU pressed the Trump campaign to make similar commitments through a candidate questionnaire, but received no response. Since March 2020, the ACLU has filed 22 voting rights lawsuits to expand vote-by-mail, absentee voting, and to ease restrictions on voting during the pandemic.
The most recent available FEC reporting shows that ACLU supporters have given over $183 million to ActBlue, 24 percent of the total the giving platform received between January 2019 and May 2020. Democrat-leaning PACs received $110 million— or 14.6 percent — from ACLU supporters. The DNC received $24 million of the $88 million it raised in that period from ACLU supporters – constituting 26.9 percent. Congressional Democratic candidates received $101 million from ACLU supporters – 20.8 percent of the total. And of the nearly $330 million raised by the Biden campaign this cycle, nearly 20 percent, or over $65 million, has come from ACLU supporters. Only 6 percent of ACLU supporters giving to Biden have made the maximum gift allowed by law. ACLU supporters have also given more than $19 million to Republican campaigns — the Trump campaign, congressional candidates, through the Republican National Committee, GOP-associated PACs, and WinRed.
By election day, ACLU volunteers will have sent over 2.3 million text messages, and will have completed more than 500,000 phone calls. Already, volunteers have sent over 1.5 million text messages and completed over 40,000 calls encouraging everyday people to take action on policing, immigrants’ rights, voting, and access to reproductive healthcare. ACLU priority states include Michigan, Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, and North Carolina.
The ACLU undertook this research project with its own staff to protect its supporters’ privacy. ACLU staff analyzed the contributions reported in the public FEC data that were made by ACLU donors and supporters in a manner that did not involve exporting ACLU donor and supporter data to any third party. The organization did not import the FEC data into our supporter files, and we do not track individual contributions from our supporters to campaigns, parties or PACs. Our goal was to understand how the ACLU supporter base contributed as a whole – we were intentionally not tracking individual contributions.
The ACLU did not analyze donation data available about ACLU supporters giving less than $200 from sources other than the FEC. Consequently, these estimates understate the amount of small-dollar giving and grassroots political engagement from ACLU supporters.