Bush's Dollar Store: The Bucks Drop Here
By Ben White
"I really liked his father and I had heard that he was gonna run for president," Goodson, a retired machinist, said of his contribution in response to a mailing from the Bush presidential campaign. "It's all I really had to send him. If I'd had more I would have sent it."
Bush commands a dazzling fund-raising machine that is the envy of the Republican presidential field, producing $7.6 million in the first quarter of 1999.
Although the roster of Bush contributors is top-heavy with $1,000 donors, the list also includes 114 men and women like Goodson and Ray Bye, an inventor from Sandy, Utah, who registered their support for the front-running Texan with $1 donations. Hundreds more sent in $2, $3 and $5 checks.
Because the identities of donors who give less than $200 don't have to be reported to the Federal Election Commission, small-dollar givers are not often identified by campaigns. The Bush campaign listed all its donors, providing a different window into the Texas governor's early popularity than the usual examinations of those who pony up the maximum $1,000.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) also named every donor, a list peppered with small-dollar contributions. Unlike Bush, however, McCain did not provide home towns for such givers, making them difficult to reach.
Goodson said he sent his lucky bill to Bush because he admires Bush's reputation for inclusiveness. "I like the way he's handled the government in Texas," he said. "He gets along with everyone, like the Hispanics, he gets along with them real good."
David DeRoos of Paw Paw, Mich., who called his $1 contribution "probably as small as they get," said he hoped Bush would be an antidote to what he views as the moral laxity of the Clinton years.
"I'm hoping that we don't have to deal with another Clintonish regime in Washington," said DeRoos. "I'm hoping he might be the one to turn it around."
Erica Peterson, a behavioral psychologist at George Washington University, said there is nothing odd about someone sending a single dollar to a presidential candidate. "It's not all that surprising," she said. "People think it's something that's important and they know [their contribution] is going to be multiplied. To me it is completely rational."
Then how about sending in $1.50? Bush had four such donors. Contributions also arrived in other small amounts. Kathryn Kilpatrick, a self-described "farmerette" from Longbranch, Tex., sent in $5 to Bush along with 442 others.
Though such small donations might not immediately repay a campaign the cost of a big direct mailing, the investment can pay off in the long run.
"What you have to do is look at the life value of a contributor, not their first or most recent contribution," said John Brabender, a GOP strategist with extensive experience in direct mail. "What you generally find is, if you get someone to commit to a contribution, once they have made that investment into a campaign they feel committed to it over the course of time and that $1 might become a $10 or $50 contributor between now and the general election in 2000. They may ultimately become a $1,000 contributor."
A case in point could be George Yonkers of Barre, Mass. "He sent me a note," Yonkers, who gave $1, said of a direct mail letter he received from Bush. "I like what I've seen so far, and down the road I might send him some more."
J.P. Plunkett, a commercial real estate broker in Boston, sent Bush perhaps the oddest amount reported by the campaign -- $6.87.
There was method to Plunkett's mathematical madness. A direct mail letter from Bush lay at the bottom of the pile of bills Plunkett slogs through every Tuesday. A Bush supporter for years, he saw the mailing as an opportunity to kill two birds with one check: express his support and round his bank balance to an even number.
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company