Supporters plan party for Ron Paul-- a Tea Party

The same people who set up the Guy Fawkes Night "money bomb" for the Ron Paul 2008 campaign now seek to produce another one-day windfall on the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party.

Peter Glaskowsky
Peter N. Glaskowsky is a computer architect in Silicon Valley and a technology analyst for the Envisioneering Group. He has designed chip- and board-level products in the defense and computer industries, managed design teams, and served as editor in chief of the industry newsletter "Microprocessor Report." He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. Disclosure.
Peter Glaskowsky
3 min read

Back on November 5 I wrote about an independent fundraising effort on behalf of the Ron Paul campaign. The occasion was Guy Fawkes Night, the commemoration of the 1605 attempt to blow up the Palace of Westminster in England. As I said at the time, this was a strange occasion for fundraising in a US presidential campaign, but at least it gave the organizers a convenient tagline for the effort: they called it a "money bomb".

Illustration of the Boston Tea Party
The Destruction of Tea at Boston Harbor, by Sarony & Major, 1846 National Archives and Records Administration
They're at it again, and this time they have a proper US political event to commemorate-- the Boston Tea Party, which took place on December 16, 1773.

The Internet is having strange effects on political campaigns. Four years ago, the Howard Dean campaign used the Internet to great effect, but in largely predictable ways-- to reduce the costs of reaching supporters, raising money, and coordinating campaign activities.

This time around, all the presidential candidates are using the Internet for these purposes, but one campaign-- Ron Paul's-- has benefited more than the others from independent activism that has been much less predictable, and not uniformly beneficial.

Ron Paul has received unexpected support from users of Meetup.com, YouTube, FaceBook, and other popular sites. He has also received support from anarchists, 911 Truthers, racists, and others whose positions he doesn't agree with.

In the old days, a few problematic supporters were an accepted part of political life; as Charles Dudley Warner wrote in 1850, "politics makes strange bedfellows." A candidate could accept money (and votes) from anyone with the general public being none the wiser. Without hard details, rumors are more easily dismissed.

Today, the Internet makes it easier for a candidate's opponents to dig up ill-considered statements and campaign appearances and make them appear more significant than they really are. (This has been a problem for all the campaigns this year, not just Ron Paul's.)

The November 5 "money bomb" was not promoted in advance by Dr. Paul's campaign, perhaps because it feared the whole thing would flop. In fact, the campaign basically ignored the event until it became apparent that it was bringing in millions of dollars-- eventually topping out at more than $4.2 million. The campaign never made a formal statement about the Guy Fawkes connection.

On November 20, the campaign-- possibly responding to rumors that another "money bomb" event was planned for December 16-- sent out its own fundraising letter encouraging supporters not to wait. It argued that it needed to raise and spend the funds sooner because of the timing of the primaries, saying "If you wait a month from now to donate, your money will only be spent after Iowa caucus-goers and New Hampshire primary voters have made up their minds."

As of this writing, the campaign has yet to mention the Tea Party money bomb, and my guess is that it won't-- unless the event raises some significant amount of money. Coincidentally, the event is likely to push the campaign well past its $12 million fundraising goal for the fourth quarter of the year, so some recognition by the campaign is probably inevitable.

Will the Ron Paul campaign turn down Sunday's donations simply because they aren't from an official fundraising drive? Of course not. Will it be able to spend the money effectively? I'm sure it will. Would it have been better for the campaign to have received these donations sooner? Absolutely. But Internet activists run on their own schedules for their own reasons, and political campaigns are going to have to get used to that.