|This article is part of the SourceWatch coverage of MoveOn.|
The history of MoveOn, one of the most successful Internet-based political groups in the United States, began with its opposition to the impeachment of U.S. President Bill Clinton in 1998. Originally a nonpartisan petition, it has emerged as a powerful fundraising vehicle for Democratic Party candidates.
Opposing Clinton's impeachment
The MoveOn.org domain name was registered on September 18, 1998 by computer entrepreneurs Joan Blades and Wes Boyd, the married cofounders of Berkeley Systems, an entertainment software company known for the flying toaster screen saver and the online game show "You Don't Know Jack." After selling the company in 1997, Blades and Boyd became concerned about the level of "partisan warfare in Washington" following revelations of President Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky. The MoveOn website was launched initially to oppose the Republican-led effort to impeach Clinton. Initially called "Censure and Move On," it invited visitors to add their names to an online petition stating that "Congress must Immediately Censure President Clinton and Move On to pressing issues facing the country."
At the time of MoveOn's public launch on September 24, it appeared likely that its petition would be dwarfed by the right wing's already-impressive effort to oust Clinton. A reporter who interviewed Blades on the day after the launch wrote, "A quick search on Yahoo turns up no sites for 'censure Clinton' but 20 sites for 'impeach Clinton,'" adding that Scott Lauf's impeachclinton.org website had already delivered 60,000 petitions to Congress.  Salon.com reported that Arianna Huffington, then a right-wing maven, had collected 13,303 names on her website, resignation.com, which called on Clinton to resign. 
Within a week, however, support for MoveOn had spread rapidly and exponentially. Blades calls herself an "accidental activist. ... We put together a one-sentence petition. ... We sent it to under a hundred of our friends and family, and within a week we had a hundred thousand people sign the petition. At that point, we thought it was going to be a flash campaign, that we would help everyone connect with leadership in all the ways we could figure out, and then get back to our regular lives. A half a million people ultimately signed and we somehow never got back to our regular lives."  MoveOn also recruited 2,000 volunteers to deliver the petitions in person to members of the House of Representatives in 219 districts across America, and directed 30,000 phone calls to district offices. 
The November 1998 elections, Blades said, left MoveOn organizers with a "real sense of having succeeded. The results were a setback to Republicans, and most thought it had a lot to do with the unpopularity of the impeachment. Then two weeks after the election, they went ahead and voted to impeach. When you become active in the system and communicate to your representatives, and they don't vote in accordance with your values, your next responsibility is to support candidates who will. All of a sudden we were signed up until 2000."  In response to the impeachment vote, MoveOn launched a "We will remember" campaign, asking its members to sign a pledge that "we will work to defeat Members of Congress who voted for impeachment or removal. To give substance to this pledge, we are also pledging, today, our maximum possible dollar contribution to opposing candidates in the year 2000."
In early 1999, MoveOn continued to strive for bipartisan appeal, recruiting GOP moderate Larry Rockefeller, a New York environmental attorney and heir to the Rockefeller fortune, as the public face of a "Republican Move On" aimed at mobilizing anti-impeachment Republicans. As the 2000 elections neared, however, the organization gravitated toward the Democratic Party. 1999 also marked MoveOn's first foray into issues other than Clinton's impeachment. Following the shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado, Blades and Boyd launched a "Gun Safety First" petition to promote the "common sense regulation of firearms," such as child safety standards for gun manufacturers and laws forcing gun-show operators to enact more-stringent background checks on buyers.
In June 1999, MoveOn established its own political action committee, the MoveOn PAC, with the ability to accept contributions online via credit card. It was not the first organization to fundraise online for political candidates, but its success was unprecedented, raising $250,000 in its first five days of operation and $2 million over the course of the 2000 election to help elect four new Senators and five new House members. "That may not seem like a lot of money to most people, but it was a revolution in fundraising for campaigns from average citizens," Blades said.  According to Michael Cornfield, director of the Democracy On Line Project at George Washington University, MoveOn's achievement created "a change in attitude" in the political fundraising community. "It is like a bell has gone off," he said. "The race is on. 'Let's raise money online.'" He compared MoveOn's achievement with the pioneering of direct-mail fundraising in the 1970s by the religious right and conservative fundraisers such as Richard Viguerie.
The most significant innovation was MoveOn's success at raising funds from small donors, with an average contribution size of $35. Prior to the Internet, small-donor fundraising was prohibitively expensive, as costs of printing and postage ate up most of the money raised. By comparison, MoveOn's fundraising costs were minimal, with credit card transaction fees constituting their biggest expense. "If candidates can use the Internet to raise significant funds through small donations and attract and organize volunteers at relatively little cost and labor, it could radically alter the balance of power in politics," observed political reporter Joan Loawy. "Suddenly candidates with fewer resources are more viable and the clout of moneyed special interests is diminished."
The $2 million that MoveOn raised, however, was substantially less than the $13 million that its members had pledged they would give to defeat Republicans when passions were running high over the Clinton impeachment. According to Mike Fraioli, a Washington-based fundraiser for Democratic candidates, MoveOn missed an opportunity by waiting until the impeachment hearings were over before it began trying to collect campaign contributions. "Never let your pledges hang out there," Fraoli said. "Things change, the world changes. All the emotion that existed a year ago no longer exists today."
The 2000 elections also saw MoveOn's first effort at web-based voter registration with the launch of votepledge.org. It also weighted in regarding the 2000 presidential election, warning its members that voting for Ralph Nader could throw the election to George W. Bush. ""Many (Nader supporters) say they never got into the race to play the spoiler," said an email message from Wes Boyd. "What was positioned as a safe protest vote has now become a kind of kamikaze vote."
In January 2000, MoveOn rolled out ActionForum.com, an Internet discussion forum designed to solicit public involvement in policymaking. "Unlike most chat rooms, in which the loudest voices often rule, the site allows members to rank the comments they respect," explained the Contra Costa Times. "Those with the highest rankings move to the top. ... ActionForum aims to be an Internet chat room with accountability. In a typical chat room, users sign on anonymously. On ActionForum, users are required to address their letters with their real names, as well as their profession and city of residence." As a test subject for the new chat form, Blades and Boyd chose one of the most controversial issues for 2000 in their home town of Berkeley, California: a draft revision of the Berkeley General Plan, a document that aims to set the city's goals for everything from zoning laws to transportation, housing and community safety. The forum was initially greeted with enthusiasm by city government officials as an online means of soliciting community feedback. Blades and Boyd also supported the Berkeley Party, which attempted to builds a political platform for the city centered around the ActionForum, with "no back room deals, no insiders," making it "unlike another political party in the world."  The ActionForum.com never really caught on with Berkeley residents, and efforts to use it for municipal purposes were abandoned in 2001. In the meantime, however, it became an important vehicle through which MoveOn received advice and suggestions from its own members.
In March 2001, MoveOn joined forces with the nonprofit advocacy site Generation Net, an online advocacy organization headed by Peter Schurman, which attempted to use the ActionForum software to engage young people in policy priority-setting and nonpartisan political advocacy. Schurman became MoveOn's first full-time, salaried executive director, taking on administrative tasks that until then had been performed on a volunteer basis by Blades and Boyd. Issues prioritized by MoveOn in 2001 included support for the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance reform bill, environmental protection and opposition to the Bush administration's proposal to abolish estate taxes for the wealthy. MoveOn also responded to electrical blackouts and skyrocketing energing costs in California by calling for cost controls on electricity utility companies, organizing a nationwide "roll your own energy blackout" - a voluntary, three-hour electricity-free evening on June 21, in which more than 10,000 participants turned out lights and unplugged TVs and other appliances to protest Bush's energy plan.
The actionforum.com site now contains over 31,000 posts which are not grouped in any manner and are not searchable. A hypothetical user who could read and vote at a rate of one post per minute would require 64 8-hour days to chime in on all the posts. Postings which call for software enhancements are frequently made, and appear to be ignored by MoveOn.
Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, MoveOn launched an online campaign calling for "justice, not escalating violence." It collected 30,000 signers for a statement that declared: "To combat terrorism, we must act in accordance with a high standard that does not disregard the lives of people in other countries. If we retaliate by bombing Kabul and kill people oppressed by the Taliban dictatorship who have no part in deciding whether terrorists are harbored, we become like the terrorists we oppose. We perpetuate the cycle of retribution and recruit more terrorists by creating martyrs."
During the buildup to the invasion of Iraq, MoveOn circulated an anti-war petition calling for "No War on Iraq." In July 2002, it came under criticism after MoveOn's Eli Pariser urged its members to oppose the war by sending letters to the editor of their local newspapers, offering sample form letters that members could use rather than writing in their own words. Several of these form-based letters were actually printed in newspapers including the St. Petersburg Times,  the Claremont Courier,  and the Times Herald-Record of Middletown, NY.  This practice was criticized as "propaganda mail" by the "Daily Pundit" weblog. 
On August 17, 2002, MoveOn launched an online petition against the war, collecting 220,000 signatures in two months. As it had done with the petition against Clinton's impeachment, it organized volunteers who hand-delivered the signatures to senators and representatives before the congressional vote on the war powers resolution. In October 2002, a MoveOn fundraising appeal raised $1 million in two days' time for what it called four "heroes of the anti-war effort" in Congress who opposed the Iraq resolution: Sen. Paul D. Wellstone of Minnesota, Reps. Rick Larsen and Jay Inslee of Washington, and Rep. Rush D. Holt of New Jersey. However, MoveOn also worked to raise money for Democratic candidates who actually supported the Iraq resolution, some of whom were locked in tight races in moderate or conservative states, including Missouri Sen. Jean Carnahan, and Senate candidates Ron Kirk in Texas, Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire, Tim Johnson in South Dakota and Mark Pryor in Arkansas. All told, it raised $3.5 million for the 2002 election cycle.
In September 2002, it issued a bulletin by Susan Thompson, "Selling the War on Iraq," offering "lessons in PR from previous wars" and warning that "the costs of regime change" would "cost a whopping $200 billion" (which actually has turned out to be a low estimate). MoveOn predicted that "regular people will probably have to foot the bill" while anyone with ties to the oil companies (Bush and Cheney for example) will probably profit immensely."
MoveOn also joined with 14 other organization to form the Win Without War coalition, which also included the National Council of Churches, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the National Organization for Women. Win Without War in turn helped organize Artists United to Win Without War, a group of more than 100 anti-war actors, producers and directors from Hollywood. In December 2002, MoveOn launched another petition, titled "Let the Inspections Work," with the goal of raising $40,000 to pay for a full-page anti-war appeal in the New York Times. Instead, its members sent in nearly $400,000. With the additional funds, it sponsored anti-war radio spots and TV ads in 13 major cities. Modeled after the famous "Daisy" ad from Lyndon B. Johnson's 1964 presidential campaign against Barry Goldwater, the TV ads warned that war with Iraq could spark nuclear armageddon. "To generate buzz - essentially free advertising - for its own antiwar television spot, MoveOn.org hired Fenton Communications, the same company that promoted Arianna Huffington's recent anti-SUV ads. ... A week after its TV ad first appeared on the news, MoveOn.org reported that its membership had grown by 100,000. The ad was covered on virtually every major network. It was shown and discussed on news programs in Australia, Pakistan, Russia and Japan. The tally is ongoing, but the ad generated at least 110 television news stories and dozens in print, according to an Interim Media Coverage Report by Fenton Communications."  It also attempted to place anti-war advertisements on the sides of buildings, billboards and buses but was thwarted when Viacom, which owns the largest outdoor-advertising entity in North America, refused to run the ads.
By early 2003, MoveOn boasted more than 750,000 members in the United States and hundreds of thousands more overseas. As war in Iraq neared, its member base grew and the pace of its activities accelerated. Whereas the Nexis/Lexis news database recorded 155 mentions of MoveOn in 2002, in 2003 there were 2,226 mentions. In January 2003, more than 9,000 of its members, organized into small delegations, visited more than 400 home offices of U.S. senators and representatives across the nation to present the petitions in person. In February 2003, MoveOn teamed up with Win Without War to sponsor a "virtual march on Washington" that generated more than 1 million phone calls and faxes to politicians opposing the invasion. 
In June 2003, two months after the Pentagon declared an end to "major combat operations in Iraq," MoveOn teamed up again with Win Without War to purchase a full-page ad in the New York Times that labeled Bush a misleader and demanded an independent commission to determine the truth about US intelligence on Iraq, declaring, "It would be a tragedy if young men and women were sent to die for a lie." 
On August 7 and again on November 7, 2003, MoveOn sponsored public policy addresses by former Vice President Al Gore. In his August 7 speech, Gore said that "one of the reasons that we didn't have a better public debate before the Iraq War started is because so many of the impressions that the majority of the country had back then turn out to have been completely wrong. ... And it's not just in foreign policy. The same thing has been happening in economic policy. ... Something basic has gone wrong. Whatever it is, I think it has a lot to do with the way we seek the truth and try in good faith to use facts as the basis for debates about our future." Gore charged the Bush administration with "a systematic effort to manipulate facts in service to a totalistic ideology that is felt to be more important than the mandates of basic honesty. ... The administration has developed a highly effective propaganda machine to imbed in the public mind mythologies." 
"The association with Gore is telling," observed journalist Michelle Goldberg. "Though its tactics might be insurgent, MoveOn's political orientation isn't far from the center of the Democratic Party. ... Indeed, for all its fearlessness in taking on the right, MoveOn works to avoid controversy among progressives. 'I'm personally very concerned about what's going on in the Middle East,' says Pariser, speaking of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 'That's something that MoveOn probably won't directly address for the next year, and I'm perfectly happy to say that's not MoveOn's place. We intentionally look for issues that are not divisive.' Thus you won't find anything on MoveOn's site about abortion, or about guns. 'Not that those aren't important issues,' Pariser says, 'but when there's so many battles to fight, why pick the ones that divide the base?'" 
In June 2003, MoveOn held what it called "the first online primary of the modern age," and Howard Dean won a plurality of 44 percent of the vote, with 139,360 votes.  The methodology of the primary, however, attracted criticism from a staff member of the Richard Gephardt campaign, who complained of "vote-rigging" because only three of the Democratic primary candidates -- Dean, John Kerry, and Dennis Kucinich -- had been invited to send detailed messages to MoveOn members in advance of the online voting.  MoveOn called the Gephardt charge "absurd," stating that Dean, Kerry and Kucinich "were chosen by MoveOn members" and that their candidate emails included "links to the sites of ALL the other 6 candidates. ... The Gephardt campaign, and all others, were made fully aware of this process from the beginning, and chose to participate. The process was not changed. 96% of MoveOn respondents voted to endorse the selection process." 
An opinion piece for the New York Times noted that MoveOn's "effort is more extensive than most - enthusiasts clicked on for the two-day primary that drew more than 300,000 voters. The virtual tally - results of which were not expected until today [Friday, June 27, 2003, at noon] - would top the combined turnouts in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina in 2000.
"There were complaints about some of MoveOn's electioneering strictures, and this is but a baby step in field testing the Web's possible role for democracy. But it does provide a glimpse into politics of the future. After coming into being with an Internet petition against President Bill Clinton's impeachment, MoveOn has become an electronic precinct machine, steadily attracting more than one million enrolled members with criticisms of the George Walker Bush administration and quietly raising more than $7 million for Democratic candidates. If a contender can draw at least 50 percent in the elbow-throwing field, the result will mean a formal endorsement with money and volunteers to follow.
Bush in 30 Seconds
In January 2004, MoveOn provided an interesting example of the way that new communications technologies might be able to transform the 30-second television campaign advertisement that has become one of the standard weapons of modern election campaigning. Historically, campaign ads have operated according to the rules of top-down, one-to-many propaganda. They have been expensive to produce and have been the work of small cliques of paid political professionals who possessed the creative and technical skills and the expensive equipment needed to script, shoot and edit the ads. MoveOn's innovation was to create an online contest, inviting visitors to submit their own TV spots critiquing the performance of President Bush. More than 1,500 people produced and submitted ads to the "Bush in 30 Seconds" contest, and more than 100,000 people helped vote to select the finalists. A winner was then selected by a panel of celebrities, which MoveOn promised to broadcast.
"Bush in 30 Seconds" came under attack from Republicans who complained that two of the ads submitted (neither of which became a finalist) had compared Bush to Adolf Hitler, a comparison that conservatives described as "political hate speech." MoveOn.org attempted to place the winning ad, "Child's Pay," as an advertisement during the 2004 Super Bowl, but CBS rejected the ad, along with one from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, for being "controversial", drawing criticism for what critics alleged was censorship. The ad has since been broadcast elsewhere, along with several other finalists in the competition. But even before the ads appeared on television, the contest itself and "word-of-mouse" viral marketing had already given them considerable exposure.
Opposing Arnold Schwarzenegger
During the California gubernatorial recall election in 2004, MoveOn broadcast a 30-second television spot opposing the candidacy of Arnold Schwarzenegger on grounds that the actor "has a serious problem with women."
Bake Back the White House
In April 2004, MoveOn organized a "Bake Back the White House" campaign, which included 1,100 bake sales across the U.S., rallied 500,000 volunteers, and raised $750,000 for ads targeting Bush's military record. 
In June 2004, MoveOn organized a response to right-wing attacks on Michael Moore's controversial film, Fahrenheit 9/11, calling on its members to send supportive emails to movie theatres. More than 110,000 MoveOn members pledged to go see the film once it opened.  According to MoveOn's Eli Pariser, its influence on moviegoer turnout may be even larger than that number suggests. "When I went to Waterville, Maine and asked how many people from MoveOn were there, probably three-quarters of the people there said yes," Pariser told Variety.
MoveOn also organized nearly 3,000 "Turn Up the Heat" house parties on the Monday following its first weekend in theaters. Attendees listened via Internet hookup to a 30-minute talk by Moore and MoveOn organizers, and then signed up to participate in voter-registration drives and other activities aimed at unseating Bush and other Republicans in the November 2004 U.S. elections. "I've never been politically active before. I've never opened my mouth. We need to come together and open our mouths," said Katie Call, who attended a house party in Palm Beach County, Florida. 
Moveon.org subscribers exposed
In August 2004 data was leaked about subscribers of MoveOn.org's mailing lists due to a Web page misconfiguration. MoveOn.org fixed this problem on their web site after being informed by a member who noticed the problem when searching on Google. No financial data was leaked.