Cashing In On A Net Gain

Political fundraising changed forever on a Sunday afternoon in late June 2003, when former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean announced that he had raised more than $6 million over the previous three months in his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, with more than half of that coming from small donations on the Internet. Dean would go on to raise an additional $7.4 million online in the next three months.

Four years later, Democratic candidate Barack Obama unveiled second-quarter fundraising figures of $32.5 million, outpacing opponent Hillary Clinton by about $10 million. Perhaps even more impressive than the cash was the number of donors to Obama so far this year: 258,000. Of those, 110,000 gave online.

The Internet is now an integral part of every candidate's fundraising effort, and the numbers are impressive. Obama led the field among Democrats in online fundraising in the first quarter, netting around $7 million over the Internet compared with Clinton's $4.2 million and Edwards's $3.3 million. Republican Mitt Romney reported $7.2 million in online donations in the first quarter. Second-quarter Internet cash totals are not yet in.

The median online donation is usually low-the Obama campaign said 9 in 10 of its online donors gave $100 or less this year-so the big Internet dollars go only to candidates with wide appeal among the Internet-savvy. The Federal Election Commission limits allow personal contributions up to $2,300 per candidate for the primaries, and another $2,300 per candidate for the general election cycle.

So campaigns would like those small Internet givers to give again, and again, and will pester them to do so; most candidate websites even offer an option for automated monthly giving to their campaign.

By Chris Wilson