Campaign Contributions Nearly Double Old Record

By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
Tuesday, February 26, 2008

This year's presidential contest has been groundbreaking in many ways, but none more than in the race for campaign cash.

So far in this primary election season -- in 2007 and in January 2008 -- the presidential candidates have raised a combined $542 million from individuals, according to the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute. That's nearly double the previous record of $285.7 million raised during the primaries in the same 13-month period in 2003 and 2004.

Remarkably, the proportion of large vs. small donations has remained pretty close despite the huge overall increase. Contributions of $1,000 or more have accounted for 58 percent of individual giving in the latest 13-month period, the institute said. That compares with 64 percent during that same period of the previous presidential contest.

Small donations of $200 or less, fueled largely by the Internet, accounted for 28 percent of individual contributions during the most recent 13 months. In the same period four years ago, small contributions accounted for 23 percent, a change of just five percentage points.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) has raised about half her primary money so far from donors who gave $2,300, the largest amount allowed. Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), in contrast, have raised only about a third of their funds from "maxed out" donors.

Obama has received 36 percent of his donations from contributors of $200 or less, while Clinton has raised 17 percent from them. McCain has collected a quarter of his contributions from these small donors.

The largest amount of money from any single sector came from employees of the finance, insurance and real estate industries, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Lawyers and lobbyists, and the employees of communications, electronics and health firms, also have been major contributors.

Lobbyists even have been giving to Obama, at least according to the center, despite his refusal to accept money from them. That's possible because Obama and the center differ over what a lobbyist is.

Obama takes no money from federally registered lobbyists. The center says a lobbyist is anyone who works at a gun-for-hire lobbying firm, as well as their closest relatives. This distinction could become troublesome for Obama if he wins the Democratic nomination.

Dueling Lobbyists

This week, the National Association of Broadcasters is holding its annual State Leadership Conference in Washington. Some 600 broadcasters will descend on the District to be updated by NAB staffers on the association's many issues and hear from a parade of lawmakers.

Then the broadcasters will head to Capitol Hill to plead their case to their own elected representatives. This type of "Lobby Day" is fairly standard practice these days for industries with interests before Congress.

One piece of legislation the NAB opposes would require, for the first time, that AM and FM stations pay royalties to musical artists and their labels for the recordings they play. Currently, only composers and music publishers receive such a fee.

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