I hit delete on my draft post as Sunday morning came and Obama released his latest fundraising numbers. $150 million raised in September, 3.1 million campaign donors, average donation of $86. Political fundraising is changed forever.
Will the presidential candidates of 2012 rely on small contributions alone? I don’t think so. Obama’s quick trip from the last debate to a high-dollar fundraiser and his September filings show that he still needs major donors to fuel his campaign. In September alone, more than 600 people wrote checks of $25,000 or more to his campaign fund.
Major donors will remain a focus of presidential campaigns through at least 2012 because candidates need big money from big names to operate, establish credibility and build a base of support. Obama could not have built the grassroots campaign he did without the money and prestige associated with names like Roos, Pritzker, Crown, Spielberg and Geffen.
What was proven true in 2008 is that those names are no longer enough:
“What’s amazing,” says Peter Leyden of the New Politics Institute, “is that Hillary built the best campaign that has ever been done in Democratic politics on the old model—she raised more money than anyone before her, she locked down all the party stalwarts, she assembled an all-star team of consultants, and she really mastered this top-down, command-and-control type of outfit. And yet, she’s getting beaten by this political start-up that is essentially a totally different model of the new politics.”
That simple fact will change 2012 and every other future political campaign:
If a candidate can’t milk the Internet like a cash cow, said University of Wisconsin political scientist Byron Shafer, an authority on the presidential nominating process, “then we know you’ll be limited to what the bundlers can drag out for you. You’re not going to start a campaign and say, ‘This wild Obama thing, I’m not going to bother.’ You’re going to hire a guy and say, ‘Make this work for me.’ ”
What’s big out of Obama’s September filing is not the 600 major donors to his campaign. Who cares? 632,000, the number of new donors who came to his campaign, is the number everyone will care about, and that, in itself, tells you the future.
In 2012, the “bundlers” will be people like Christen Braun who made her first political donation ever in 2008 and, in 2012, will be a top fundraiser through her MySpace page. No longer “Rangers” and “HillRaisers,” it will be the countless faces on MySpace, Facebook and Twitter bringing in the big money. The biggest names in politics will be Chris Hughes, Joe Raspars, Mark Gorenberg, the head of Google AdWords, and, its safe to say, a fresh-faced Ivy League genius working from his dorm room.
I argue the candidates of 2012 will still rely on the big names and the big money to fuel their campaigns. But, their formula will follow what will surely become the “Obama rule”: 90% small contributions and 10% “soft money.”
2008, to me, has shown that the small contribution juggernaut is largely dependent on the candidate and the circumstances. The Democratic primary showed firsthand how online contributions follow the emotional highs and lows of a campaign. I don’t think we’ll ever go back to the ways of direct mail, telemarketing and $250,000+ donors as the center of any fundraising campaign. But I do think 2012 will be a bellwether election to determine whether the Obama magic is replicable, or was a one-time sight to behold.
One thing I know for sure? Julianna Smoot will have no trouble finding a job.