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Inside the Scott Brown Cash Machine

BY Nancy Scola | Friday, January 29 2010

Just how major was Scott Brown's transformation of enthusiasm in dollars in the Massachusetts special election? Pretty darn major, writes Patrick Ruffini, whose team handled the logistics for Brown's online fundraising, in a his new detailed post-mortem on the Brown campaign's "fundraising machine."

Behind Brown's unexpected success, fundraising and otherwise, are a great many factors that broke in his favor. The Republican state senator from Massachusetts entered into the stream of public opinion just as it was rising up against Democrats and Barack Obama. The fact that his was a special election, triggered only by the death of Ted Kennedy, meant that Brown didn't have to share the political stage with, really, anyone else. Then there's the fact, Ruffini says, of the impression created in the local press early on (rightly or wrongly, it seems) that the national GOP was largely staying out of the race in Massachusetts. The dollars rolled in.

The task fell then to "grassroots" conservatives, and they picked it up. Brown become a favorite of conservative bloggers, activists, and cable news pundits in the during a winter holiday season traditionally empty of any real political news. The dollars rolled in. (Many of the people who chipped in some cash online, writes Ruffini, name dropped either Fox News, Sean Hannity, or Michelle Malkin, for example.) Ruffini points to a Hail Mary visit by Barack Obama right at the tail end of the campaign. The dollars rolled in; nearly a million, says Ruffini.

How many dollars, in the end, are we talking?

To give you a sense of how crazy things were in the middle of all this, ten days out, when the campaign had raised just over $2 million online, I decided to plug the daily numbers into a spreadsheet, and comparing them to another major effort that went viral on the eve of an election, came up with a projection that we would raise an extra $1.5 million online for the campaign.

Little did I know then that the real figure would be an extra $10 million.

To give some perspective, this was likely the biggest nonpresidential political online fundraising event ever. The most I had ever heard of a statewide candidate raising online before this was Jim Webb’s $4 million in 2006 post-Macaca.

For another peek inside online fundraising numbers, have a look at Democratic clearinghouse ActBlue look back at 2009, a year in which they cleared $30 million for candidates on the left.

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