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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.

By Web Politics Editor  |  October 23, 2008; 12:44 PM ET
Categories:  Barack Obama , The Green Zone  
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I don't make much money (about 30K per year) yet through the small donations I gave about $2000 to Obama.

Posted by: MKay | October 24, 2008 11:47 PM | Report abuse

Obama gets his BIG MONEY from sources unknown. All you small donors are appreciated but your monies go in the slush fund.

Posted by: TyroneJonessr | October 23, 2008 10:32 PM | Report abuse


I gave $50 to Obama and I didn't even have a job at the time. I had never given money to a campaign before either.

Posted by: Vicki5 | October 23, 2008 3:06 PM | Report abuse

To Sarah Palin and Rudy Giluiani:

I guess community organizing is good experience after all, huh?

Posted by: Vicki5 | October 23, 2008 3:02 PM | Report abuse

After reading on of hclark1's frequent rants against Senator Obama, I am sending another $100 to

I'm almost maxed out- and I had never contributed to a political campaign in my life. I'm a white, 67 year old Reagan Democrat, by the way.

McWar and the Moose Killer from Wasilla are tearing our country apart with their lying, deceitful, and hate filled Steve Schmidt inspired campaign.

Not this time.

Vietnam Veteran
Khe Sanh 1968

Posted by: Luke2 | October 23, 2008 2:55 PM | Report abuse

From Barry Goldwater's granddaughter:

"Being Barry Goldwater's granddaughter and living in Arizona, one would assume that I would be voting for our state's senator, John McCain. I am still struck by certain 'dyed in the wool' Republicans who are on the fence this election, as it seems like a no-brainer to me.

Myself, along with my siblings and a few cousins, will not be supporting the Republican presidential candidates this year. We believe strongly in what our grandfather stood for: honesty, integrity, and personal freedom, free from political maneuvering and fear tactics. I learned a lot about my grandfather while producing the documentary, Mr. Conservative Goldwater on Goldwater. Our generation of Goldwaters expects government to provide for constitutional protections. We reject the constant intrusion into our personal lives, along with other crucial policy issues of the McCain/Palin ticket.

My grandfather (Paka) would never suggest denying a woman's right to choose. My grandmother co-founded Planned Parenthood in Arizona in the 1930's, a cause my grandfather supported. I'm not sure about how he would feel about marriage rights based on same-sex orientation. I think he would feel that love and respect for ones privacy is what matters most and not the intolerance and poor judgment displayed by McCain over the years. Paka respected our civil liberties and passed on the message that that we should conduct our lives standing up for the basic freedoms we hold so dear.

For a while, there were several candidates who aligned themselves with the Goldwater version of Conservative thought. My grandfather had undying respect for the U.S. Constitution, and an understanding of its true meanings.

There always have been a glimmer of hope that someday, someone would "race through the gate" full steam in Goldwater style. Unfortunately, this hasn't happened, and the Republican brand has been tarnished in a shameless effort to gain votes and appeal to the lowest emotion, fear. Nothing about McCain, except for maybe a uniform, compares to the same ideology of what Goldwater stood for as a politician. The McCain/Palin plan is to appear diverse and inclusive, using women and minorities to push an agenda that makes us all financially vulnerable, fearful, and less safe.

When you see the candidate's in political ads, you can't help but be reminded of the 1964 presidential campaign of Johnson/Goldwater, the 'origin of spin', that twists the truth and obscures what really matters. Nothing about the Republican ticket offers the hope America needs to regain it's standing in the world, that's why we're going to support Barack Obama. I think that Obama has shown his ability and integrity.

After the last eight years, there's a lot of clean up do. Roll up your sleeves, Senators Obama and Biden, and we Goldwaters will roll ours up with you."

Posted by: Luke2 | October 23, 2008 2:49 PM | Report abuse

Democrats for John McCain and Sarah Palin in 2008

Posted by: hclark1 | October 23, 2008 1:53 PM | Report abuse

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