Obama’s Small Donors: Not as Simple as It Seems

Many partisans of Obama–and reporters in the media–are quick to point out that Obama’s campaign is a “grassroots” campaign built on the support of “small donors.” However, a new review by the Washington Post shows that only a quarter of his money comes from such donors.

One of the most prominent refrains coming from Democrats and progressives regarding the candidacy of Barack Obama is that he is a new kind of politician. Most often, partisans point to the community organizing model employed by the campaign and the fundraising support that Obama has received from small donors. For many, the support of small donors shows that Obama’s campaign is a “grassroots” candidacy.

However, a new report from the Washington Post calls the second argument into question. According to a review of donors to Obama by Washington Post reporters, Obama’s fundraising power does not come simply from small donors (those giving under $200) as many would have you believe. Rather, the reporters write:

“Lost in the attention given to Obama’s Internet surge is that only a quarter of the $600 million he has raised has come from donors who made contributions of $200 or less, according to a review of his FEC reports. That is actually slightly less, as a percentage, than President Bush raised in small donations during his 2004 race, although Obama has pulled from a far larger number of donors. In 2004, the Bush campaign claimed more than 2 million donors, while the Obama campaign claims to have collected its total from more than 3.1 million individuals.”

While his donor base is wider than previous campaigns, Obama’s financial support still relies heavily on major contributions:

“From the start, Obama’s campaign has designed a fundraising effort that tries to maximize contributions from both small and large donors. That effort expanded in late summer, when Obama prepared to accept his party’s nomination and the DNC set up separate committees that would enable top donors to give as much as $65,500 to support his bid.

The best-known of those committees, the Obama Victory Fund, has catered to party regulars who attended one of dozens of gala events around the country, including VIP gatherings for those able to donate $28,500. The Committee for Change has quietly accepted millions more, in checks ranging from $5,000 to $66,900, from celebrities, corporate titans, Native American tribes and several of Obama’s most ardent bundlers.

The closest equivalent to the soft-money donors of the Clinton era, or to Bush’s “Pioneers” and “Rangers,” are those who have contributed to each facet of the Obama fundraising machine.

Among those who have both raised top dollar and donated it are St. Louis developer Bob Clark, Florida lawyer Mark Gilbert, and Hollywood moguls Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg, whose children each gave $37,000 to the Committee for Change.

The Crowns, longtime Obama patrons, are among a handful who have given across the board: They raised more than $500,000 for Obama’s campaign, they collectively gave $18,500 directly to the campaign, they donated $57,000 to the Victory Fund, and they sent $74,000 to the Committee for Change.”

According to the Center for Public Integrity’s Bill Buzenberg this is problematic because:

“What is wrong with this is, after this election, the people have bundled and put together big pots of money are going to come back to whoever is elected, and they will be looking for access and influence.”

Obama has developed a sophisticated fundraising machine by bypassing traditional public financing. However, while he has amassed a huge financial advantage of the McCain campaign, it begs the question of who will hold more influence in an Obama White House–a college student who gives $25 dollars over the Internet or an Obama patron who has donated several thousand. Moreover, it is worth noting that while McCain has said that the current campaign finance system is “broken,” he has not proposed an alternative system on his campaign website or for mitigating the influence of those that give more.

Author: mediamouse

Grand Rapids independent media // mediamouse.org