A Foundation Built on Small Blocks

About a third of the money Sen. Barack Obama raised in his record-setting haul of $32.8 million in the second quarter of this year came from donations made on the Internet, his campaign said.
About a third of the money Sen. Barack Obama raised in his record-setting haul of $32.8 million in the second quarter of this year came from donations made on the Internet, his campaign said. (By M. Spencer Green -- Associated Press)
By Jose Antonio Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 16, 2007

A few weeks ago, Linnie Frank Bailey, a 51-year-old self-described "older soccer mom" in Corona, Calif., and Isaac Burbank, a 20-year-old mechanical engineering student at Colorado State University, both did something for the first time.

They gave money to a political campaign -- $10 each to Sen. Barack Obama -- and they gave it over the Internet.

The Illinois Democrat's second-quarter fundraising haul of $32.8 million far outpaced the rest of the presidential field, including his chief Democratic rival, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York. About a third of it -- $10.3 million -- came over the Internet, according to the Obama campaign, and 90 percent of the online donations were under $100. Half were $25 or less.

The number of small donors gives Obama an unusually large fundraising base. The 258,000 donors who have given to his campaign this year are more than the combined total who have given to three of the leading Republican candidates: former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and Sen. John McCain (Ariz.). Clinton, who raised $27 million in the second quarter and leads most Democratic polls, has yet to release her number of donors.

Touting his success, Obama said his fundraising effort is "the largest grass-roots campaign in history for this stage of a presidential race." Jerome Armstrong, an Internet adviser for Howard Dean's insurgent campaign four years ago, didn't dispute that.

"What we're seeing here is Obama's broad, wide, mainstream appeal, and he's bringing in new people . . . people who aren't necessarily political junkies who follow the blogs," said Armstrong, who is the founder of the blog MyDD.

Dean, the former Vermont governor whose opposition to the Iraq war helped generate huge online support, raised $25 million over the Internet during his ultimately losing campaign for the 2004 Democratic nomination. Obama amassed about $17 million online in the first two quarters of the year.

But the Internet of 2003, said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, is not the Internet of 2007. YouTube and MySpace, for example, weren't factors in the last presidential election. More households, particularly minority households, are going online.

A Pew study released last month found that since 2005, the percentage of African American adults with a broadband connection has nearly tripled, from 14 percent in early 2005 to 40 percent earlier this year. "Folks online are doing things they've never done before," said Rainie, and that includes donating money to political campaigns.

Bailey, the first-time donor, who is black, is one of the 58 members of the Obama support group on Eons, a MySpace-like creation ("Lovin' life on the flip side of 50") geared toward baby boomers. "At first," she said, "I felt that people who give money to campaigns are the big-moneyed people, the businesspeople, the Hollywood people. But on his Web site, Obama is asking for smaller donations -- as little as $10, maybe $25 -- so I didn't feel that bad. I thought, 'Okay, here's one less trip to McDonald's.' "

The low-dollar contributions, Obama's aides say, is a sign of the breadth of the candidate's appeal. It's also a part of Obama's overall strategy: Bring 'em in, ask for more. There is a $2,300 limit for contributions to an individual candidate in the primaries, and the fact that many donors have given relatively small amounts means Obama can keep coming back to them.

As Julius Genachowski, Obama's chief technology adviser, put it: "The technology now has made it a lot easier for everyday people to participate. It's made it easier for campaigns, too. The technology allows us to build a platform and see if people come."

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