A campaign fundraising revolution?

Sen. Hillary Clinton, Sen. John McCain, Sen. Barack Obama, and a dollar sign

TEXT OF STORY

KAI RYSSDAL: Bean-counters within the campaigns had other things to think about than politics -- February finance reports were released last night. Obama raised more than $55 million. The campaign says 90 percent of that money came from folks who give in increments of $100 or less.

Hillary Clinton raked in $35 million. The average donation there was $100 dollars, and 80 percent of the cash came in online. Which got us to wondering whether the dominance of big donors in presidential politics could be coming to an end.

We sent Marketplace's Steve Henn to find out.


Steve Henn: The short answer?

Steve Wiesman: No.

That's Steve Wiesman at the Campaign Finance Institute. He says big donors still matter a lot.

Wiesman: You have got $344 million that's been given to candidates so far, $1,000-and-over amounts.

But Joe Graf, a professor at American University, says recently both Democratic presidential candidates have figured out how to raise big money from average folks.

Joe Graf: They've said to their activists on the street, "Thanks for your $20 dollars... can you get 10 people to give $20 dollars, too?"

Graf says small donors are more important than ever, in part because the 'Net makes it so easy for these donors to build their own local fund-raising networks.

Graf: I really think that that has changed the tenor of things, and will change the tenor of things down the road.

A generation ago, the only way to reach small donors was by mail. That's how Karl Rove got his start. But it's expensive. In 2000, John McCain was the first candidate to realize you could raise money more efficiently online -- right after he beat George Bush in New Hampshire.

Graf: A couple million dollars came in 48 hours -- and this sort of thing had never happened. People were just stunned by it.

Now, the one-time leader is a laggard. More than two-thirds of the $11 million he raised last month came from big money donors.

I'm Steve Henn for Marketplace.

About the author

Jeremy Hobson is host of Marketplace Morning Report, where he looks at business news from a global perspective to prepare listeners for the day ahead.

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