Wednesday, December 16, 2015

What Marco Rubio's Hatred of the Internet Means for Campaign Finance

It hardly makes the news, but in some places local municipalities are providing super cheap, super fast internet. The government of Chattanooga, Tennessee for example, is offering fifty times the speed of standard broad-band (high speed internet) for just $70/mo.

Marco Rubio doesn't like this, apparently. He, along with a handful of other Senators, sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) asking them to allow State to block municipal broadband services. The grounds being that it disrupts free market behavior amongst telecoms firms which provides the best service at the lowest prices. Ok.

That Rubio would go to bat for an industry which has lower approval ratings than Congress isn't outlandish. After all, as The Intercept states:
Rubio’s presidential campaign has relied heavily on AT&T lobbyist Scott Weaver, the public policy co-chair of Wiley Rein, a law firm that also is helping to litigate against the FCC’s effort to help municipal broadband. As one of Rubio’s three lobbyist-bundlers, Weaver raised $33,324 for Rubio’s presidential campaign, according to disclosures.
What is noteworthy is that last sentence. As a major fundraiser for Rubio, one of three lobbyist bundlers, and a direct plug-in to telecom interests, Weaver raised $33,324 for Rubio. You may remember a few weeks ago we published a post where we highlighted Americans literally gave away $70,000 to the company behind Cards Against Humanity for nothing.

Weaver, on the other hand, got a serious candidate for the Republican Presidential nomination to endorse his political and financial interests for half that.

Of course, there are other factors involved. Weaver has close ties to Rubio and the argument made isn't off brand for Republican politician (though notably only eight Senators signed). More importantly though, stumping for the telecoms now will make future financial support from its mega-rich CEOs and upper-echelon employees very likely.

From Rubio's point of view this is a no-brainer. When a constituency's interest is clear, and they're ready to give or withhold support based on it, the calculation doesn't take a lot. And with voters spending more on Halloween than elections, neither does the influencing.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Our Second Funded BernSpark Campaign!

If you've been following our Facebook or Twitter you know last week an awesome project for Bernie Sanders T-shirts and brochures was just a few donors away from funded.

Well, as of Saturday it made it! Jenni Siri has some amazing artwork and now, because of the BernSpark community, it's all getting made into shirts and brochures!

Want to get your own shirt, brochures or even framed poster? It's not too late! The project has beaten its goal but the deadline isn't until January 13th. You can still make a donation, get a reward and help a Sanders Supporter!

Check our Jenni's project here.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Black Friday Sent A Powerful Message To Our Politicians: Listen To The 1%.

The holiday season is about all how we spend the time we have and the money we make. What do we choose to do with precious resources we're given?

This post isn't about the lines, camping or number of people who shopped. It's about much more than that.

For background, though...

The number of people who shopped. It's not that bad.
There's an article making the rounds online claiming more than twice the number of people who voted in 2014 shopped last Friday. With lines out the door, even people camping out for days or weeks, it can be a pretty sad comparison for American's enthusiasm for their democracy. Which we're constantly lamenting.

This article is wrong. In the final tally, only 102 million people went shopping, dealing with the insane lines and crowds. Just 34% more than voted in 2014, not 100%. So, no problem right?

How we told our leaders to listen to the 1%
Let's say you wanted a nice, intimate dinner with the President and a chance to network with some of New York's finest one-percenters. This is the perfect opportunity to get in good with Obama, or whoever's President (as the cost is determined by giving limits), and make it known that your support doesn't come free.

For the ultra-rich, it costs a meagre $36,000 to get your issue directly in front of the President - and you get a ridiculous, private dinner from a 5-star chef to-boot!

Cards Against Humanity
On the other hand, this Thanksgiving people gave over $71,145 away to Cards Against Humanity for absolutely nothing except a joke. Not even a copy of the game.

At $5 a pop, people literally handed over TWICE what it costs to get a seat with the President of the United States to a for-profit company. What did they do with all that money? Well, they bought themselves toys.

Sweet, Sweets Spending
But perhaps one of the best benchmarks is the first fall holiday - Halloween. Here are two numbers from 2015:
  • $6.9 billion: Total estimated Halloween consumer spending in the United States for 2015.
  • 64: Percent of Americans who planned to celebrate Halloween this year.
In 2012, small donors gave $284 million to both Presidential candidates combined with a voter turnout rate of 55%. Think about that. 9% MORE people do Halloween than vote and they're spending 2,253% more on it.

For perspective, that is over 3.5 times the cost of ALL Presidential campaign spending COMBINED - no SuperPACs or Billionaires required.

Why Do Billionaires Win?
When you think about it, it's obvious. Combined, American easily have the firepower - in votes and money - to put their issues in front of Presidents and fund entire elections themselves. In fact, if all the small donors gave, it would probably reduce the cost of elections because politicians would know their actually reaching people.

But it's not like it costs a lot as it is. A dinner with the President is easily within the reach of the mega-rich; in part because everyone else isn't giving. The 1% don't run politics simply because they have more money, it's because they invest money in ways that yield a return. Including in politics.

Alternatively, it seems people would literally rather give their money away to a funny (but still private) corporation to pad the owners' pockets.

But maybe the problem is just that we don't have a way of putting our money together to demand things of politicians like wealthy donors. Maybe if people could see their power, up front and personally, it would change things. Well, that's what we're working on at ShiftSpark. Please come by and check out what we're doing, we'd love to hear your thoughts.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Beyond PACs: What's a 501(c)4?!

Happy Thanksgiving! This is the time of year when we all sit around the table trying to avoid politics. But should it come up, isn't it nice to know a little something?

Campaign finance is an alphabet soup of FEC, local Board Elections and IRS labels. Beyond your PACs, which file with campaign finance regulators, there's a whole host of non-profit entities to content with. The most common is the 501c4; a non-profit which engages in specific political advocacy.

Unlike a 501c3 (your standard charity) which must stay away from partisan politics, 501c4s:

  • Can support or oppose specific candidates/parties
  • Can lobby for legislation
  • Are only partially tax exempt - donors don't get a deduction for giving (like with a c3) but they don't pay income tax.
There is a LOT going on with the specifics of how these entities at operate and, here at ShiftSpark, we're most thankful this year for everyone working to educate the public on how their system works (no matter how complicated it may be)!

Thank you to Bolder Advocacy for creating this truly amazing and comprehensive guide to 501c4s!

Also, check out their really nifty (super-short) explanations of ALL the types of non-profits; complete with a handy chart, here.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

(Almost) Everything You Need To Know About Grassroots Campaign Finance Compliance

One of the most important things we can do to keep our democracy safe from the undue influence of money is track where campaign spending comes from - even for small amounts.

If you’re giving directly to a campaign or PAC, you don’t have to worry about that, they have you covered. But, if you’re doing your own awesome thing and being a leader in your community, pay attention!

A lot of spending by individuals and small groups get lost because it isn’t reported. Each time we fail to report, the hard work and commitment of individual donors is lost, depriving them of a voice, and politicians of the real picture of American activism.

Worse yet, people are turned off from participating because the laws to help make our system transparent scare them off.

But reporting to the FEC is easier than you think. This post will break down when it’s required and how to do it. Step by step.

Assumptions: To make things simple, we’ll be giving you the instructions for the most common scenario on BernSpark:
  • Supporting a single Federal Candidate (state campaign finance requirements vary).
  • Independent expenditure(s) which have no input from a candidate or campaign.
  • You activities total less than $10,000.
  • Only raising contributions from individuals.
If you’re doing any one of these things differently, reach out to us! Ok, let’s go!

Scenario 1: You spent $250+ but less than $1,000
You don’t have to file with the FEC, but they want to know what’s going on. Namely, who contributed, how much and what you bought.

There is one step
  • Fill in Form 5 (below) online or mail a signed letter with contributor and expense info to the FEC.
If you did your funding on ShiftSpark or BernSpark, we can send you a document with the relevant information. All you have to do is mail that in with your signature and list of expenses.

Here’s the mail-in version with instructions added. For reference, here are the FEC instructions.

Scenario 2: You raised OR spent $1,000+
In this case, the FEC does want you to file; but it’s really no big difference.

There are Four steps
  • Open a bank account anywhere. This is pretty easy and it’s probably the hardest part.
  • Register your PAC. You can do it online or with this form.
  • Report who gives you money and what you buy with Form 3x (below).
    • At the end of each Quarter (Jan 31, Apr 30, Jul 30, Oct31)*.
    • 12 days before the Primary and General elections
  • Close your PAC when you file your last report.
If you raise and spend your money within one quarter (like many BernSpark projects which raise money all at once) then you only need to file one report. At the end of the report just check the box “Termination Report” under “Type of Report” and you’re done forever!

If you spend money but don’t raise any, or vice versa, you just fill in the relevant information and report that each quarter.

Below are the the mail-in versions of the Registration form and Reporting/Termination form with instructions added.

Finally, when collecting contributions you must ensure the following (done automatically by the ShiftSpark or BernSpark system):
  • You collect employer and occupation info
  • Only collect money from U.S. Residents (Green Card holders) or Citizens give
  • No Federal contractors give
  • People are using their own money
That’s all! If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to us at, @sh1ftspark or

Monday, November 16, 2015

Our First Funded BernSpark Campaign!

Along with ShiftSpark, we also built BernSpark at the request of Bernie grassroots community. On BernSpark, activists can raise money for their creative projects while we give them tips on Federal regulation.

Congratulations to Roger in Westchester NY! His campaign to plaster his community with 10,000 high quality pieces of Bernie let was a total success.

Within a two week timeline Roger was able to surpass his goal and raise over $500  from the BernSpark community to make a difference where he lives.

Here's his story:

My name is Roger from On the recent campaign conference call, in the NY State breakout, I was called on by Robert Reeves to speak because I have organized a large number of events in just 5 weeks. I have a county voter database from the state, which has yielded walk lists, and my IT guy wrote an app that harvests phone numbers. We have all the tools we need to contact all 256k Democrats before paid campaign staff arrives in NY. 
Our volunteers have been printing out our own lit, it gets expensive. I've spent $160 on ink in 5 weeks. I found a union printshop, ALiGraphics in West Harrison NY that will print 10,000 pieces of 4x6 color glossy Bernie lit for $467.08. Non union shops will do the job for $300. Our volunteers have gained a lot of experience over the last month, and deserve professionally designed & printed lit. Our lit is similar to Bronx $ Bernie lit, I have included a photo of the Bronx lit ours will be modeled after.

Congratulations again to Roger, and thank you to him, and all the amazing organizers, doing the grassroots work engaging in democracy!

Want to start a project? Spark you own project, America can't wait!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

#ResourcesMatter: What Mizzou's Stand Against Racism Reveals About Winning

Politics is everywhere - from the White House, to your office, to college game day. This has been made abundantly clear by the resignation of the University of Missouri's President (and soon Chancellor) after protests by the college football team over the handling of race issues on campus.

This major success of student activism, however, has been touted widely as the triumph of people power. As we've been writing about on this blog in relation to American politics, though, that's not quite the case. Like success in other forms of politics, it is a success of economic pressure as well as people. This is particularly clear when you realize a much less publicized hunger strike preceded the football strike. Ignoring the resource argument is not only misleading, it's damaging to future movements. If we want people power to work anywhere, we need to be honest about the true mechanisms for change here.

My friend on Facebook put it succinctly, but The Washington Post put it best

"...[T]he team's protest threatened immediate economic damage to the university. This is perhaps the biggest issue at play. A contract between Missouri and BYU obtained by the Kansas City Star reveals that cancellation on the part of the Tigers would result in a $1 million fine to be paid to BYU within 30 days of the cancellation."
Beyond this, the value of College Football cannot be overstated. Afterall, Gary Pinkel, Mizzou's coach, is the highest paid public employee in the State making a whopping $4.02 Million per year. This far exceeds even Missouri's Governor who makes a relatively paltry $133 Thousand annually.

Furthermore, as the Post also points out:

"Missouri's athletic program generated $83.7 million in revenue last year, on $80.2 million in cost — a net of $3.5 million in profit. That's a lot of money — but it's actually fairly low for a public university."
If you look at Missouri's revenue and expenses, you realize that the $3.5M from sports is actually 3.5% of their overall profit. That's a LOT.

And this is before you factor in the future potential earnings of winning a college bowl which can result in payoffs ranging from a LOW of $325K to a high of $22M. And don't forget sponsorships and deals. Missouri, for example, also gets another $2.2M from Nike, plus a bonus if they make a bowl.

This isn't to say people don't matter. Of course they do. But, as in American politics, putting resources at risk is a necessary and powerful component in any activist toolbox. That's why we created ShiftSpark, so that alumni, donors, anyone, can turn their resources into power with just a click.