ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
When it comes to political fundraising, nothing brings in the money like adversity. So the first year of Donald Trump's presidency was very good for the nonprofit ActBlue. It makes a fundraising platform that has become the go-to for Democratic candidates and causes. NPR's Peter Overby reports.
PETER OVERBY, BYLINE: ActBlue has been around since 2004. It's played a role in some of the Democrats' big fundraising successes, some of them fueled by a candidate's personality or message, or now increasingly stoked by anger or fear. One early example - this outburst during President Barack Obama's speech to Congress in September 2009.
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BARACK OBAMA: The reforms I'm proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally.
JOE WILSON: You lie.
OVERBY: The shouter was Joe Wilson, a Republican congressman from South Carolina. A flood of small-dollar contributions flowed to his Democratic rival, Rob Miller, much of it through ActBlue. Miller's cash on hand went from $49,000 before the speech to one point seven million a few weeks afterwards, although he still didn't win. Now, with President Trump in office, many ActBlue clients are tapping the anti-Trump movement. This is from the Democratic Attorneys General Association.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: If you're worried about the Trump administration and what they might be doing in terms of civil rights, immigration - you pick the issue...
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: So many people are afraid today, wondering what's going to happen to their rights, wondering...
OVERBY: Here, recovering from a cold, is ActBlue Executive Director Erin Hill.
ERIN HILL: You're having people who are excited about campaigns. And you're also seeing folks wanting to have a reaction to what's going on right now in the White.
OVERBY: ActBlue is basically a digital conduit for online contributions sort of like GoFundMe. Almost 4 1/2 million donors have their credit card information on file with ActBlue so they can give more quickly. That's one measure of ActBlue's role in the anti-Trump resistance. Another is its record fundraising last year.
HILL: So we just closed 2017. And in 2017, folks used our tools to raise $522 million.
OVERBY: ActBlue's best year ever and one-third more money than President Trump's campaign committee raised for the 2016 election. George Washington University's David Karpf explains what ActBlue is not. He's a professor of media and public affairs.
DAVID KARPF: ActBlue isn't like EMILY's List or MoveOn or Democracy for America.
OVERBY: The difference - these other groups choose the candidates they help. ActBlue simply offers a service, free, to any Democrat who wants it. It runs mainly on small transaction fees for all those contributions.
KARPF: So we have a lot of other fundraising sites on the Democratic side, but not a lot of other sites that are trying to do what ActBlue does because ActBlue is already the largest and is already doing it well.
OVERBY: This business model works because ActBlue is a political committee, which means it's tax-exempt. So far no one else, liberal or conservative, has matched ActBlue's business model or its impact. Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.
(SOUNDBITE OF PHILIP GLASS' "METAMORPHOSIS: METAMORPHOSIS TWO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.