But the real champion of money blurts is Bachmann, according to a comparison of Federal Election Commission (FEC) data and television appearances.
The first clear example came in October 2008, before Obama’s election, when Bachmann, on MSNBC’s “Hardball,” said, “I am very concerned that he may have anti-American views.” Bachmann, who until then was not particularly well known nationally, raised almost $1 million over the next few weeks, records show.
In the summer of 2010, Bachmann made a flurry of appearances on news and talk programs to tout her new Tea Party Caucus and ratchet up her criticism of Obama, including suggesting that impeachment might be a good idea. She also accused Obama of “infantilism” and “turning our country into a nation of slaves.”
Bachmann reeled in more than $5 million in contributions during the third quarter of 2010, her best fundraising period, FEC records show.
Even blurts by Bachmann’s opponents seem to have worked to her advantage. On the day that former president Bill Clinton attacked her as an extremist, Bachmann raised $90,000 from named donors, more than two-thirds of it from those giving less than $500.
Bachmann’s ubiquitous media presence and tea party support helped her raise $13.5 million in the 2010 cycle, making her the top fundraiser in the House. Her campaign also received a crucial burst of contributions last week after her well-received appearance at the GOP presidential debate in New Hampshire, where she formally announced her run for the White House.
“President Obama is a one-term president!” Bachmann proclaimed to applause.
Bachmann’s presidential campaign did not respond to repeated requests for comment last week.
Political strategists and campaign finance experts say the use of money blurts marks a modern twist on an age-old strategy of capitalizing on key moments to raise money. The tactic is helped along by the ease of impulse giving on the Internet, while campaigns gain thousands of new names for their donor lists.
Michael Malbin of the Campaign Finance Institute, which studies political contributions, said a crucial moment in attracting broad support can come when candidates are recognized as an alternative to a disliked status quo. A well-timed call to arms can often serve that purpose, he said.
“They’re appealing to enough people with enough intensity that they are motivated to act,” Malbin said.
That doesn’t mean it’s always a good strategy, however. Grayson, the former Florida congressman, used an aggressive campaign of Internet ads to raise money in connection with his frequent TV appearances. But his appeal to liberal die-hards around the country apparently did not play well in his moderate Orlando area district; he was defeated in 2010 by Daniel Webster (R).
“You can turn on the money spigot but still end up digging your own grave,” Bonjean said.
It’s hard to tell how much of the money-blurt phenomenon is truly spontaneous — merely taking advantage of an opportunity — or whether some outbursts are timed for maximum financial impact.
Few campaigns will talk candidly about the issue, but media consultants and other strategists say it’s clear that campaigns are getting increasingly sophisticated about the timing of fundraising appeals.
In Bachmann’s case, for example, her debate performance last week was accompanied by a prominent call for donations on the Drudge Report, the conservative news Web site. Her line about a one-term Obama presidency, which garnered widespread notice, was one she has used repeatedly at lesser events in recent months.
Jeff Cosgrove, managing director of the CommonSense Media online advertising network, which has clients in both parties, said a growing number of campaigns book ads in connection with television appearances or other public events.
“These things aren’t necessarily as organic as you would think,” Cosgrove said. “They seem to be often premeditated.”