The Green Zone
Small Donations Create Big Obama Donors
By Sarah Cohen
This week, The Washington Post estimated that Barack Obama's campaign has raised about a quarter of its money, or $154 million, from people who gave less than $200. Yesterday, the Center
for Public Integrity Responsive Politics pegged small donations at about half of Obama's total. The Campaign Finance Institute's figures are somewhere in between.
So has Obama revolutionized campaign finance so much that small donors can be counted on to fund a $600 million campaign? Or is the share of small donors about the same as it has always been -- just on a much bigger scale? The answer depends on what gets counted and where the people counting get their data.
Most organizations consider as "small" any individual donation of $200 or less, while The Post attempts to count people rather than transactions. One reason that most groups use donations rather than donors is that much historical data doesn't provide the detail needed to make the distinction. It has rarely mattered in the past. But the Obama campaign took a United Way approach to donors, asking them to give often, even in small increments.
When that happens, small donations can quickly add up to a larger donor.
Joe Jolly, a law student in Ithaca, N.Y., recently realized that he's given $1,800 to Obama's campaign through donations of $25 to $200. "If the Obama campaign had asked me six months ago to give $2,300, I'd have laughed them out of the room," he said. "But the reality today is that I'm almost there."
Some estimates also ignore donations that are given through so-called "victory committees" -- fundraising arms that collect money from large donors to be split among candidates, the national party and state parties, often through donations of $50,000 or more.
In the past, presidential candidates received little money from these committees because they relied on public financing for the general election and couldn't accept very much outside money. But the privately financed Obama campaign has collected more than $58 million so far from these committees, mostly from donors who are hitting the maximum allowed by law.
Posted at 12:44 PM ET on Oct 23, 2008
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