Why So Many Groups Are Making Money On The Government Shutdown

The current showdown is an easy issue to have a strong opinion about, so fundraising appeals have been in abundance

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Brendan Smialowski / AFP / Getty Images

A view of a hall on Capitol Hill Sept. 29, 2013 in Washington.

When it comes to what’s good for the United States, Obama said in a recent speech, he will not negotiate. But his grassroots non-profit will use the prospect of a government shutdown as a fundraising opportunity, just like hosts of other politicians and political action committees.

From Virginia Republicans to Colorado Democrats, from conservative super PACs to liberal women’s rights organizations, politicos are trying to cash in on the fight that will likely bring the federal government’s operations to a halt on Tuesday. “Some House Republicans are treating the deadline for Congress to pass a budget like it’s not all that serious,” advocates from Obama’s Organizing for Action said in a recent email. “The other side will spend millions to maintain the status quo. We’re fighting for change—chip in $5 or more to support OFA today.”

Much of the rhetoric focuses on the central issue in this tug of war: whether government spending should include the funding of Obamacare. Groups like the Senate Conservatives Fund are asking supporters to help them “win this fight,” to hold out until the health care law is defunded. Tea Party umbrella organization FreedomWorks wants money to replace “Obama-Republicans with real conservatives” like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who gave a 21-hour pseudo-filibuster against Obamacare. And Vice President Joe Biden signed his name to an email saying that “the Republican Party is letting Ted Cruz lead their charge against Obamacare” but giving $3 to Democrats will help stop the rising Republican star.

(MORE: Shutdown Countdown: House GOP Wants to Delay Healthcare Mandate)

Other appeals have been more niche. Democratic congressional candidate George Gollin, running for Illinois’ 13th district, asks for money to help defeat his opponent and “the rest of the Tea Party nihilists [who] will pull the trigger on a government shutdown that will hurt millions of Americans.” Emily’s List, which supports pro-choice female candidates, zeroed in on a Republican-backed budget provision that would allow employers to nix contraceptive coverage. Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli took the opportunity to tell voters that his Democratic opponent “has repeatedly advocated for a shutdown of Virginia’s government in blind support of Obamacare.”

The appeals are coming in a deluge partly because the window to get contributions from the government-shutdown blame game is much smaller than the typical Washington policy battle. The immigration debate, for instance, also gave politicos ammunition for demonizing the other side and rallying the troops, but that was spread over a period of months—and still isn’t over. With the shutdown, the timetable is much clearer, and the sense of urgency is more palpable. “The clock is ticking,” says Costas Panagopoulos, a political science professor at Fordham University and an expert in campaign finance. “So they’re capitalizing on this opportunity.”

Often, the more deeply voters care about something, the deeper fundraisers can reach into voters’ pockets, and the prospect of the government going on hiatus is prime to activate fighting instincts across the spectrum. According to a CBS News/New York Times poll, 80% of Americans say that threatening to close down the government as part of a budget debate is unacceptable. And nearly half of Americans still think Obamacare is a bad idea, per a NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.  “Voters care deeply about the government shutdown,” Panagopoulos says. “It’s an accessible issue and an issue on which voters generally know how they feel. So it’s an easy target as far as fundraisers are concerned.” This is also a fresh angle for fundraisers to seize on, he says, one that might be more interesting to new supporters or voters who have heard similar calls to action year after year.

(MORE: Hidden Hand: How Heritage Action Drove DC to Shut Down)

Many of the appeals are coming as emails, a sign of the times when it comes to campaign finance. Rather than depend largely on big chunks of change from lobbyists and interest groups, politicians are increasingly leveraging technology to go directly to voters. In an email sent out Sept. 29, Democratic Colorado Rep. Jared Polis put together one of the more memorable asks for shutdown money, playing on Cruz’ choice to read Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham during his long floor speech:

No, I do not like Ted Cruz reading Green Eggs and Ham

And shutting down government without giving a damn,

No I do not like it, I do not like it,

I do not like it, patriot I am.

P.S., he wrote, giving him $5 will help him continue his side of the fight during this dire time in Washington D.C.

Of course, this fundraising push is just a wider part of a river that is constantly flowing. There was no shortage of fundraising appeals before the shutdown was looming and there won’t be one after.

MORE: Explaining the Shutdown to Your Kids