washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority


Almost 24 hours after the polls closed on March 4th, Barack Obama finally released his fundraising totals from the month of February. To no one’s surprise, he broke his own fundraising record in smashing fashion. The Clinton campaign had released their numbers a week earlier, and the $35 million she raised was impressive by any standard — except for that of Barack Obama. In the shortened month of February, he pulled in $55 million.
More than 80 percent of Obama’s donations were raised online ($45 million). More than 90 percent of the online donations were for $100 or less; more than half were for $25 or less. For a candidate in a party that not so long ago had very little in the way of a small donor base, that’s amazing.
727,972 people gave money to the Obama campaign in February. Of those, 385,101 were first-time contributors. At some point during the month, Obama broke another important milestone: his total number of contributors passed 1 million. As of last week, the number stood at 1,069,333 and counting
Micah Sifry is the one observer I’ve seen who put those numbers into context:

In 2004, when the total US population was about 296 million, the total number of donors giving $200 or more to all federal campaigns and committees–that is, to all presidential and congressional candidates, PACs and party committees–was 1,140,535, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. That is, about .4% of the US population made a contribution of more than $200.
In 2000, when the total population was about 281 million, just 777,877 made a $200+ contribution, just over one-quarter of one-percent of the population.
Barack Obama’s campaign has already mobilized more individual donors than the entire large donor pool of 2000, and they are closing rapidly on the entire large donor pool of 2004. This is breathtaking.

As he notes later in the post, it’s not a completely fair comparison because 90 percent of Obama’s donors are giving less than $200. But still, one million contributors is an extraordinary number and an important one.
For starters, despite the overheated rhetoric from the McCain campaign and many in the mainstream media about Obama’s reluctance to commit in advance to public financing in the general election, his donor base represents “public financing” in the broader sense of the term: a million citizens supporting a candidate with whatever they can give, whenever they can afford it. That McCain — who has championed campaign finance reform — cannot accomplish something similar and must instead rely on the same old bundlers and corporate sources as the GOP campaigns of the past speaks volumes.
On the other side of the coin, Obama’s (and to a lesser extent, Clinton’s) small-donor success has the potential to move the Democratic party away from a need to rely on moneyed interests. Eight years ago, the Gore campaign worked the big dollar network extensively. Four years ago, Democrats pushed big money into 527s like America Coming Together in order to level the playing field with Bush. Now, that’s no longer necessary. It appears that for Democratic presidential campaigns in the future, money from big donors is just going to be gravy.
And the potential of electing a president who isn’t beholden to anyone but the citizens of the country could be a huge deal for our national political process.

One comment on “Cha-Ching

  1. Joe Corso on

    The basic conclusion you draw is correct, but Dems have to be careful not to underestimate the role of large donors too quickly.
    We now have a two-tier system in America – ads placed by the candidates and the parties on the one hand and by independent 527’s on the other. The former tend to be somewhat restrained by the need to have the candidate directly approve the ad, the latter is the weapon of choice for smear and slander.
    A huge disproportion in the amount of money available to pro-Republican 527’s will give the Republicans a potentially decisive edge in the ability to smear an Obama or Hillary while allowing McCain “deniability”.
    Come September, we may find that the vast war chests held by pro-Republican 527’s like Freedom Watch – over a quarter of a BILLION dollars at last count – represents a massive smear machine with potentially election-changing capabilities.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.