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Some More About the Grassrootiness of Obama's Second Quarter Fundraising Numbers

BY Micah L. Sifry | Wednesday, July 13 2011

Joe Rospars, chief digital strategist for Obama 2012 (and the wunderkind who masterminded the campaign's 2008 new media operation), has a post up on the Obama for America blog that appears to respond to the questions I raised this morning about the grassrootsiness of the campaign's stunning $86 million second quarter fundraising haul. He writes:

Folks have been asking lots of follow-up questions about the numbers, and there will be more than 15,000 pages of detail when we file our report on Friday with the answers (unlike many of the outside special-interest groups attacking President Obama, who don't disclose anything at all).

But we've been able to do a little digging and math today to pull a few other interesting facts beyond what Jim [Messina] already shared in the video:

First-time donors: One of the most exciting things we've learned as we go through the numbers is that of the 552,462 people who made a donation to the campaign, more than 260,000 of them were brand new to the Obama organization. They joined hundreds of thousands more who had given to the 2008 campaign to own a piece of this organization in its critical first few months. This reflects what we see in the field with our volunteers: a combination of folks who have been engaged in the past and new people hungry to be a part of building this campaign from the ground up.

This is a significant number, to be sure. Interestingly, it also tells us something else--of the approximately 3 million individual donors who gave to Obama for his 2008 run, so far less than 10 percent have re-upped. You can spin that two ways: either it's a reminder that many 2008 Obama supporters have lost their enthusiasm for him (and the PCCC has garnered the names of nearly 200,000 former Obama supporters who donated $17 million and gave 2 million volunteer hours in 2008 who have pledged not one iota if he makes cuts to Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid), or it's a big fat juicy target pool for the president's campaign team to mine for the months ahead. Undoubtedly it is both.

The second point from Rospars is a more direct response to my criticism that Messina's touting of a $69 average contribution was fudging the real numbers, since it excluded donors to the DNC (where the top allowable contribution isn't $2500 for the primary and $2500 for the general, but $30,800). He writes:

Combined Obama campaign and DNC average donation: The average donation to Obama for America was about $69. But lots of folks are also wondering about the average donation for the combined effort for the Obama campaign and the DNC. So here's that: the $86 million came from more than 980,000 contributions for an average donation of about $88 for the combined effort. It's important to note that when we're talking about the 552,462 people that those are only the people who gave to Obama for America—they made more than 680,000 contributions, for an average donation of $69 to the campaign. (It's tough to get an accurate number of people giving to the combined effort because the campaign and the DNC are two separate entities, with two separate databases of donors—transactions and dollars are easy to total up between the two of them, but counting unique people across two organizations is hard because many individual people make donations to both.)

At first glance, it would appear that they got 400,000 contributions to the DNC (totalling $37M, which makes for an average donation to the DNC of $92.50). But this still doesn't really tell us the whole picture. There's a fat(cat) head and a long tail to campaign finance, and until we get the actual report and folks like the Campaign Finance Institute analyze it, we can't really say much more about the relative importance of small donors to the overall campaign warchest.

For arguments sake, there could be 1,000 people who maxed out at $30,800 each to the DNC (totalling $30.8M), and 399,200 people who each gave fifteen cents, and that would get you to the DNC total of $37M, too. The average donation would still be $92.50, which doesn't sound like much. But of course the campaign would be treating those 1000 maxed out heavies far differently than the ordinary people.

I'm sure some of my Democratic friends are wondering why I am harping on this, since (they're saying), the other side is going to have so much more money and a lot of it isn't being revealed. Well, two reasons. First, I hate spin, regardless of who it comes from. And second, neither side in the election of 2012 is raising money in a transparent manner. Both sides have Super PACs that will be exploiting the latest loopholes in the law to raise and spend hundreds of millions of dollars, and the bulk of that money is going to come from rich people, corporations and labor unions, not small individual donors. Let's not kid ourselves, folks.