In Obama Fundraising, Signs of a Shift From Online to In-Person

Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 18, 2008; Page A06

Sen. Barack Obama reversed a three-month fundraising slide by raising $52 million in June, a monthly total that has been surpassed only by his own performance in February in the history of presidential campaigns, aides announced yesterday.

The Democrat's June effort easily topped that of Republican Sen. John McCain, who announced earlier that he will report raising $22 million for the month. The two are now nearly even in remaining resources. When combined with money gathered by their national party committees, they both began July with just less than $100 million in the bank.

Obama's campaign would not say how much of his total was raised from small donors who gave online, and official reports are not due to be filed until Sunday. But an examination of his campaign schedule -- which has been packed with high-dollar fundraising events -- would suggest that he relied less on Internet donors than he did in February, when he took in $55.4 million.

That month, he raised $30 million in donations of less than $200. Donors contributing similar amounts gave $23.5 million in March, $19.3 million in April and $13.3 million in May, Federal Election Commission records show.

The shift has been noticed by top Obama fundraisers, who have been busily planning the kind of big-money events the candidate was able to bypass in the heat of the primary campaign. Several said in interviews that the campaign is no longer seeing the kind of online bonanza that occurred during Obama's long battle with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, when more than $1 million was flowing in each day.

The unpredictable nature of Internet giving has added some risk to Obama's decision to forgo federal campaign funding and to commit hundreds of millions of dollars to developing a massive national field operation. By becoming the first to turn away $84.1 million in federal money since it was first made available to presidential candidates, Obama will have to rely heavily on Internet donors to compete with McCain after Labor Day.

An e-mail that Obama campaign manager David Plouffe sent to supporters yesterday to announce the latest fundraising benchmark was not coy about making clear just how much is at stake.

"I know this isn't the first time we've asked you for money, and it won't be the last," he wrote. "We have developed a strategy -- a very aggressive strategy -- that will only work if our millions of supporters continue to contribute their time and their money."

Obama supporters have little reason to doubt his track record -- he has raised nearly $340 million since the campaign began in February 2007.

But Michael Cornfield, a scholar in residence at the nonpartisan firm Capitol Advantage and an expert on Internet fundraising, said it's "closer to impossible than possible" for campaigns to predict how online donors will behave moving forward.

"Raising money online draws on the capacity of the Internet to convert people's momentary enthusiasm or sense of whimsy or outrage into money," he said. "I don't know how you come in and build a budget around that."

Obama campaign aides said they would not discuss their budgeting plans because they consider them proprietary.

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