Donations Pooled Online Are Getting Candidates' Attention

By Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 11, 2007

In a political fundraising world traditionally dominated by lobbyists and wealthy business executives, small-dollar donor Hrishi Karthikeyan found a way to make his own splash, right from his desk.

With tools offered free on Barack Obama's Internet site, Karthikeyan, 28, created his own "South Asians for Obama" Web portal to gather money from friends who were inspired to support his favorite candidate. Within days, he was able to forward to Obama's presidential campaign $1,600 -- more than he ever planned to give on his own -- in bundled contributions from those who saw the targeted site.

"I started hearing from people I never met," he said in wonderment.

Karthikeyan is part of a movement that political strategists hope will transform Internet fundraising from a spigot, capable of providing candidates quick spurts of cash here and there, into an around-the-clock supplier of major dollars.

Doug Kelly, a consultant who served as the Democratic National Committee's technology director, said he believes that by November 2008, "the Internet will be the single largest source of revenue for most presidential campaigns -- far outdoing direct mail and other sources."

The growth in online fundraising has been dramatic since 1994, when candidates' Web sites offered only a mailing address where visitors could send checks.

Just last week, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) invited everyone who had registered on his Web site to buy a $100 e-ticket to an upcoming fundraiser they could "attend" online.

Earlier this month, the campaign manager for former senator John Edwards (D-N.C.) tried to tap into an impulsive online-donor world by relaying to supporters a conservative pundit's inflammatory remark about the candidate.

And Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) announced that e-mailed entreaties from her husband, former president Bill Clinton, raked in $1 million from 15,000 donors in a single week.

In 2000, McCain stunned competitors by raising more than $6 million in Internet donations before his campaign shut down. Four years later, Democrat Howard Dean hauled in nearly $30 million online.

Even then, Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi says, they were just scratching the surface.

"We were pioneering across the great prairie in a covered wagon," he says of the 2004 campaign. "We didn't have YouTube or Facebook or MySpace the way we do now."

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