What the Internet Has Wrought: Presidential Fundraising '00, '04, '08

As the Republican & Democratic presidential candidates report their fundraising numbers after two quarters, there are lots of stories to tell. The most important? What the Internet has done to bring sums of money unimagined in 2000 & 2004.

Donnie Fowler
Technology intersects with public policy and American politics in profound and ever-changing ways. Politics, policy, and technology explores this intersection and how it has impacted the government and society in ways that activists, operatives, and observers are just beginning to understand. Donnie Fowler has achieved a leading role in both political and high technology circles through work in Silicon Valley, at the White House and the Federal Communications Commission, and on the ground helping Democratic campaigns in every corner of the nation. Fowler's campaign highlights include service as Al Gore's national field director in 2000 and as a candidate for Democratic National Chairman in 2005, where he finished as the runner-up to Howard Dean. His technology background includes several years as vice president of TechNet, a Silicon Valley-based network of venture capitalists and senior executives.
Donnie Fowler
3 min read
As the Republican & Democratic , there are lots of stories to tell.

What's one of the really amazing stories? It's not that Clinton the Democratic "frontrunner" raised about $10 million less than Obama the "challenger" in the last three months or that McCain the Republican "frontrunner" is in third place in fundraising for his party. (Well, those are pretty neat.)

The story technophiles should celebrate and fear is how the Internet has enabled such an extraordinary, incredible, surprising increase in dollars collected compared to the outrageously expensive 2000 and 2004 nominating cycles. The Internet has created a new paradigm, connecting once dormant activists to politics and telling them how important money is to victory. Campaigns have mastered the Internet to reach these otherwise hard to reach small givers (those who pay $10, $25, $150). Before John McCain in 2000 and Howard Dean in 2004 showed that the information highway was paved with gold, Republicans and Democrats relied almost entirely on direct mail to reach these smaller donors. The big rubber chicken fundraising events with Barbara Streisand and Clint Black were only for those could pay $1,000 or more.

There were no cheap seats. But now, just about anyone can get in. On the one hand, there are more people voting with their pocketbook AND their ballot. On the other, it's just more money in a process already full of it.

The details are below, but take this one point as proof of the huge gap that the Internet has created between 2000 & 2004 and the beginning of this 2008 election cycle:
  • Al Gore raised a TOTAL of $43 million to oust former Senator Bill Bradley (starting in 1999 and going through the Democratic National Convention in August 2000)
  • John Kerry raised a TOTAL of $31 million to get rid or Dean, Clark, Gephardt, & Sharpton (from the beginning of 2003 through February 2004)
  • Now in only two quarters in the year before the election Clinton has banked $63 million while Obama has collected $58.3 million and Republican leader Mitt Romney has deposited $43.9 million.

Let me restate that for those of you keeping score at home:
Gore 2000: $43 million in 6 quarters
Kerry 2004: $31 million in 5 quarters
Clinton 2008: $63 million in 2 quarters
Obama '08: $58.3 million in 2 quarters
Romney '08: 43.9 million in 2 quarters

Here are even more details for you junkies ...
2000 Nomination Season (1999 Q1 - 2000 National Convention)
Bush $ 94 million
Gore $ 43 million

2004 Nomination Season (2003 Q1 - 2004 National Convention)
Bush $ 257 million
Kerry $ 215 million ($24 million thru 1/31/04, $31 million thru 2/28/04, $74.7 million thru 3/31/04, and so on)
Dean $ 53 million
Edwards $ 33.6 million
Clark $ 29.5 million
Gephardt $ 21.5 million

2008 Season (2007 Q1 + 2007 Q2)
Clinton $ 63 million
Obama $ 58.3 million
Edwards $ 23 million
Romney $ 43.9 million
Giulani $ 33.6 million
McCain $ 24.2 million

To make a little more sense of these numbers and why I focused only on the nomination season, here is a primer on raising money to run for president. Candidates begin raising in January of the year before the general election. So Bush and Gore started in January of 1999 for the 2000 general election; Kerry and Bush started in January of 2003 for 2004; and all the candidates now running started only six months ago for 2008. Traditionally, candidates quit raising money at their national convention in the summer of the general election year . That's because the federal government has always paid the Democratic and Republican nominee a lump sum to run their general election campaign as long as he agrees not to raise any additional cash. (This year, however, it looks like the nominees will decline that subsidy because they believe they can raise more than the government would otherwise give them.)

* SOURCES: Federal Election Commission, OpenSecrets.org, and ABC's "The Note" (7/3/08)