Enter to win...a president

Actor George Clooney and Barack Obama listen to a question at The National Press Club Newsmaker's Program April 27, 2006 in Washington, D.C. President Obama's campaign recently raffled off a meet-and-greet at Clooney’s house.

Tess Vigeland: By now, you're used to those email marketing pitches promising that if you send in a couple of bucks, you'll have the chance to win something really cool. Maybe an iPhone. Maybe even a car!

Well this year, the stakes are even higher. You could be the one to win an audience with a presidential candidate! Both campaigns are blasting out emails offering a face-to-face meeting with a political or Hollywood star in exchange for a 'small donation.'

Marketplace's Mitchell Hartman reports on the year of the Ebay election.


Mitchell Hartman: If email could talk, here’s what the message I just got from the Romney campaign might sound like: ‘Donate $3 for your chance to meet Mitt and his V.P. pick in person. Will you be that lucky winner?’

And the Obama campaign? It recently raffled off a meet-and-greet at George Clooney’s house.

Patty Edwards: This is about that whole lottery mentality.

That’s retail analyst Patty Edwards.

Edwards: For $3, I can support the candidate and I might get to meet George Clooney.

Edwards says it’s an engagement strategy honed to a science by America’s leading consumer brands. And she thinks it’ll work. People will keep reading the campaign’s emails, to find out if they won.

Still, that seems like pretty poor payback, when the ‘chance to win’ -- I mean, the ‘donation to support our cause’ -- raises just $3 for the campaign.

But Middlebury College political scientist Bert Johnson says it’s not just about the money.

Bert Johnson: Often campaigns don’t raise much more than 20 percent of their funds in small contributions. But having a pool of committed supporters that they can identify is very important. You’re more likely to contribute more later.

But raffling off time with the candidate -- like a Las Vegas timeshare -- does risk cheapening the message, says Kathy Kiely at the Sunlight Foundation in Washington.

Kathy Kiely: The candidates are allowing themselves to be sold as commodities. So I think, whether the price is $3 million or $3, is this is an auction or are we really talking about ideas here?

The campaigns clearly aren’t worried. They’re ratcheting up these face-time sweepstakes as the election draws near.

I’m Mitchell Hartman for Marketplace.

About the author

Mitchell Hartman is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Entrepreneurship Desk and also covers employment.

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