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Donations Pooled Online Are Getting Candidates' Attention
And now come Web sites such as ActBlue, which aims to combine the power and passion of political blogging with the ability to instantly contribute to Democratic candidates. Streams of small donations are bundled into larger sums that are certain to grab the attention of candidates -- not unlike lobbyists who might arrive at a candidate breakfast carrying an envelope of checks from clients and partners.
With the first primary votes still 10 months away, Edwards's presidential campaign has collected more than $1 million in donations assembled by ActBlue. Fellow Democrat Bill Richardson, the New Mexico governor, has gathered more than $300,000 through the same Web site.
The Pew Internet and American Life Project found last year that 73 percent of Americans -- about 147 million adults -- now use the Internet. To tap that audience, presidential contenders have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in innovations such as e-mail solicitations tailored to a supporter's interests; installment plans that let donors make small, monthly contributions; blogs to help turn supporters into donors; and the bundling technology.
Obama's site, as well as those launched by Clinton, McCain and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (R), allow supporters to sign up to raise money through bundling. Clinton's site lets online donors enlist as "Hillraisers," the term she uses to identify the bundlers who have each pledged to raise $1 million for her presidential bid.
Karthikeyan said the signup process took him only minutes. On Feb. 14, he e-mailed all his contacts and described his effort to mobilize South Asian Americans behind Obama. He urged them to visit his personalized site and "consider making a donation on behalf of our community."
The system then alerted Karthikeyan with an e-mail each time someone donated, telling him the name of the donor and how much was given, and generating a thank-you note for him to sign and send to each donor.
"At first, I got them back from friends," Karthikeyan said. "Then, as those friends passed the link to their contacts, I started hearing from people I had never met."
The viral nature of the giving tree is precisely why campaigns see it as so potent. R. Rebecca Donatelli, a McCain consultant, said she considers it "the online version of neighborhood fundraising," in which people invite their circle of friends to give, and then those friends recruit more donors.
Among the most potent advances this year is the way campaigns are going online to gather data on potential donors. The process of gathering detailed data has been methodical.
"You get a higher response rate when you talk to people about things they care about," said Kelly, the consultant.
Michael Cornfield, an executive at ElectionMall.com, a nonpartisan campaign technology company, said such targeting can begin based on how a person happens across a campaign or fundraising Web site.
During the 2006 campaign, some readers of liberal blogs such as Daily Kos, MyDD and the Swing State Project found they were guided from posts about the race to the ActBlue site, where they were invited to give to bloggers' favored candidates.