Obama Raised Half a Billion Online
By Jose Antonio Vargas
Barack Obama raised half a billion dollars online in his 21-month campaign for the White House, dramatically ushering in a new digital era in presidential fundraising.
In an exclusive interview with The Post, members of the vaunted Triple O, Obama's online operation, broke down the numbers: 3 million donors made a total of 6.5 million donations online adding up to more than $500 million. Of those 6.5 million donations, 6 million were in increments of $100 or less. The average online donation was $80, and the average Obama donor gave more than once.
"You looked at the money being raised online in the same way that you looked at the crowds who came to the rallies," Joe Rospars, the 27-year-old director of Obama's new-media department, told The Post. "You were constantly surprised at the number of people who were coming out to see him," and, when it came to online donations, "people exceeded our expectations as to what they were willing to do."
Obama also raised millions from traditional campaign bundlers -- rich, well-connected fundraisers -- but the bulk of the more than $600 million that Obama raised throughout the campaign was through the Internet, aides said. (Some of those bundlers, of course, also arranged for donations to be made online, so there is some overlap.)
In September, his single biggest month of fundraising, Obama amassed more than 65 percent of his record-shattering haul -- $100 million of the $150 million -- from online donations, aides said. After Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin dismissed the value of community organizing in her acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention on Sept. 3 -- "I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities," she said to applause -- Obama raised $10 million within 24 hours.
Linnie Frank Bailey, a 52-year-old mother of two in Riverside, Calif., is
The campaign's use of e-mail, text messages and social networking sites, also called "socnets," has been closely watched by technocrats, strategists and OPOs -- the online political operatives who stand to benefit from Obama's unprecedented online success. Here are some more specific figures from the campaign:
- Obama's e-mail list contains upwards of 13 million addresses. Over the course of the campaign, aides sent more than 7,000 different messages, many of them targeted to specific donation levels (people who gave less than $200, for example, or those who gave more than $1,000). In total, more than 1 billion e-mails landed in inboxes. (Four years ago, Sen. John F. Kerry had 3 million e-addresses on his list; former Vermont governor Howard Dean had 600,000.)
- A million people signed up for Obama's text-messaging program. On the night Obama accepted the Democratic nomination at Invesco Field in Denver, more than 30,000 phones among the crowd of 75,000 were used to text in to join the program. On Election Day, every voter who'd signed up for alerts in battleground states got at least three text messages. Supporters on average received five to 20 text messages per month, depending on where they lived -- the program was divided by states, regions, zip codes and colleges -- and what kind of messages they had opted to receive.
- On MyBarackObama.com, or MyBO, Obama's own socnet, 2 million profiles were created. In addition, 200,000 offline events were planned, about 400,000 blog posts were written and more than 35,000 volunteer groups were created -- at least 1,000 of them on Feb. 10, 2007, the day Obama announced his candidacy. Some 3 million calls were made in the final four days of the campaign using MyBO's virtual phone-banking platform. On their own MyBO fundraising pages, 70,000 people raised $30 million. The campaign even set up a grassroots finance committee that was inspired by the national finance committee's high-dollar bundlers. In the grassroots committee, though, supporters were trained to collect small-dollar donations from their friends, relatives and co-workers.
- Obama has 5 million supporters in other socnets. He maintained a profile in more than 15 online communities, including BlackPlanet, a MySpace for African Americans, and Eons, a Facebook for baby boomers. On Facebook, where about 3.2 million signed up as his supporters, a group called Students for Barack Obama was created in July 2007. It was so effective at energizing college-age voters that senior aides made it an official part of the campaign the following spring. And Facebook users did vote: On Facebook's Election 2008 page, which listed an 800 number to call for voting problems, more than 5.4 million users clicked on an "I Voted" button to let their Facebook friends know that they made it to the polls. (Talk about online peer pressure.)
No other major campaign this cycle put technology and the Internet at the heart of its operation at this scale. Inevitably, the scope of the operation was the envy, if not outright obsession, of other campaigns. "It doesn't matter if you're a Republican or a Democrat, if you care about how technology has changed campaigning, you watched what they were doing," said Mindy Finn, who worked on President Bush's eCampaign team in 2004 and supervised Mitt Romney's online strategy. Rospars reported directly to David Plouffe, the campaign manager -- most Internet directors did not have that kind of relationship -- and his work was promoted by Julius Genachowski, a longtime friend of Obama who served as the campaign's chief technology advisor.
Genachowski now sits on Obama's transition team and is rumored to be the top candidate for the post of national chief technology officer, a forthcoming Cabinet-level position in the Obama White House. While other campaigns employed Internet teams -- including Sens. Hillary Clinton and John McCain -- none had the resources of Rospars, who had a staff of at least 13 during the early months of the primaries. That number consistently grew during the general campaign, though exactly by how many -- some speculate upwards of 30 -- he continues to decline to say.
What is known is that Rospars had a design team that developed content for BarackObama.com, as well as staffers who scoured the Web, then peppered it with ads to drive people to the site. (For Obama supporters on Facebook, it was nearly impossible to be on the site at any given moment and not see an Obama ad.) A critical group known as the "analytics team" measured everything that went in and out of the site -- tracking which ad at what time drew the most traffic and what kinds of e-mails from the campaign got opened and read most.
(If the site was the car, the analytics team served as its mechanic, tuning and tweaking as needed in a 24-hour online cycle. Usually, campaigns hire outside vendors to do all this work. Not Obama, whose campaign mirrored a Silicon Valley start-up.)
Genachowski, whom Triple O staffers such as Scott Goodstein, 34, refer to as "the godfather," set up the multifaceted digital operation. In early 2007, Genachowski brought in Rospars, who co-founded his own online consulting firm and worked on Dean's online-fueled campaign, to be the campaign's new media director, and Kevin Malover, a veteran of online travel agency Orbitz, to be chief technology officer. In an interview in May 2007, Genachowski told us: "We may be the only campaign with a full-time chief technology officer." While Rospars was in charge of the entire political operation, Malover helped build software and took care of integrating data and voter files.
"The technology now has made it a lot easier for everyday people to participate. It's made it easier for campaigns, too. The technology allows us to build a platform and see if people come," said Genachowski.
And come they did.
The big question now is, how will all this online energy translate in the Obama White House? Change.gov, his transition site, went up two days after he was elected, though with a bit of a glitch. Last Friday, his team announced that his radio address will also be videotaped and archived on YouTube. Yesterday, Plouffe sent an e-mail with the subject line that read: "Where we go from here." With the inauguration just 61 days away, the transition team sent a detailed, four-page survey asking supporters for their input into how the Obama administration should move forward.
It's volunteer-centric: After filling out their demographic and contact information, supporters are asked whether they'd like to volunteer in their communities (and how many hours they're willing to put in) and instructed to check off the issues that they are most interested in.
Chris Hughes, 24, one of the youngest members of Triple O, told The Post: "What we've learned from this campaign is that there's huge potential for people that haven't been involved in politics to discover that, yes, this is something that impacts me. Even before I joined the campaign, the fundamental premise was to help put the political process into people's own hands. That was the value from the start of the campaign, that was the value at the end of the campaign, and it's not going away."
This is one in a series of online columns on our growing "clickocracy," in which we are one nation under Google, with e-mail and video for all. Please send suggestions, comments and tips to email@example.com.
Posted at 8:00 PM ET on Nov 20, 2008
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