Campaign Cash That Matters

Class, welcome to Political Fundraising 101. We are lucky enough today to have Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's press secretary, Bill Burton, as our guest speaker. His topic: making sense out of the spin and hype of the upcoming quarterly fundraising tallies that all the candidates will herald as why they are winning the money race.

We've always liked and respected Burton because in just a few words, he can explain what's fact and fiction. And in his memo below you will learn why the "primary" money Obama is raising from a record number of small donors may mean a heck of a lot more than the big checks candidates like Sen. Hillary Clinton are raising. Take it away, Bill:

To: Interested Parties

From: The Obama Campaign

RE: Primary v. General Funds--A Distinction with a Difference

The second quarter fundraising period ends at midnight on Saturday and the various Presidential campaigns will soon release their fundraising totals for that period. As you know, this is the first modern Presidential election when the candidates are simultaneously raising money for the primary and general elections. This has led to some confusion and misreporting in media accounts.

The only figure that truly matters is the total money raised for the primary.

-- General Election funds are not available until after candidate is officially nominated at the convention on August 28, 2008.

-- Candidates will continue to raise and spend primary funds from the moment they become presumptive nominee (likely early in 2008) until the convention.

-- There is no question that the eventual nominee will be able to raise sufficient funds for the general election, so there is no strategic advantage to raising general election funds now.

In reality, the funds raised for the general election serve no purpose other than inflating a candidate's total.

The candidates who have raised the most general election money have done so because of a strategic decision to ask donors to write $4,600 checks (instead of the $2,300 per person allowed in the Primary).

The Obama Campaign has decided not to aggressively raise money for the general election (i.e. not ask all of our current maxed out donors to write a second check), because it doesn't help us win the nomination and would distract from our efforts to get as many contributors as possible, which we believe is ultimately the most important metric. In addition to providing the broadest financial base, a large number of contributors provides a foundation of volunteers for the caucuses and primaries. The Obama campaign currently has more than 240,000 contributors.

In media reporting on the second-quarter fundraising number, the only truly accurate measure of strength and support is to compare the amount of primary funds raised. The general election funds should be discounted and ignored. While it may be impossible to get an exact total of the primary funds raised right after the quarter ends, every campaign should be able to give you a good estimate of the breakdown.


By Paul Bedard
  • CBSNews

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