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Obama 2012 Announces Record $86 Million Campaign Haul

An AP analysis claimed that Barack Obama’s shift to the right could cost him in campaign dollars and volunteer hours. I think a lot of observers would dispute the word “shift” to the right. And anyway, it doesn’t seem to have affected him yet. In an announcement today, Obama campaign manager Jim Messina announced an $86 million haul for the second quarter of 2011, split between Obama 2012 and the DNC’s Obama Victory Fund. This total came from 552,462 donors who gave over 680,000 donations.

This sounds like an impressive grassroots push, but Micah Sifry calls it into question:

If you had any doubt that we are living in an age of mass participation in national politics, enabled by the internet’s ease of communication, here’s more proof. Ninety-eight percent of all those contributions, he notes, were in amounts of $250 or less, with an average donation size of just $69, proof of Obama’s roots “small dollar, ordinary people” kind of politics.

There’s just one problem with this claim: The $86 million raised by the Obama campaign in this quarter didn’t come with an average donation size of $69. That’s because, as Messina notes near the video’s end, $38 million of that whopping total went to the Democratic National Committee, via the Obama Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee that Obama controls. At OVF fundraisers, a donor can give up to $5,000 to the presidential campaign committee and another $30,800 to the DNC. (Here’s an invitation to one that happened recently in Chicago, starring Rahm Emanuel.)

“We can bet,” says Michael Malbin of the Campaign Finance Institute, which is working on analyzing the details buried in the campaign’s forthcoming 15,000 page report to the FEC, “that most of the party money came from people who maxed out. ” He added in an email to me, “Interestingly, by going to people for 30K this calendar year, he can go back again next year for another 30K. It’s one of the perqs of incumbency.”

It doesn’t add up to have 680,000 donors with an average contribution of $69. In reality, the small donors represented a smaller portion of the total.

The record haul does mean that Obama will not have any problem raising money for the 2012 campaign. He’s likely to dwarf his opponents and come close to offsetting whatever corporate spending gets included on the GOP side in the post-Citizens United world. Where a lack of grassroots enthusiasm, if it exists, will affect the Obama campaign is in the volunteer department. This is from the AP article:

“The AFL-CIO opposes any cuts to Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid, and there is no question that our members are going to take the position of elected officials on this question very seriously going into 2012,” said Damon Silvers, policy director for the big umbrella union.

Silvers said it is not just about fundraising.

“The real political clout of organized labor is not the money, it is the volunteers,” he said. “We didn’t have enough clipboards for them in 2008.” […]

Justin Ruben, executive director of, said the debt ceiling is a “crucial moment,” noting that Obama’s 2008 election was propelled in part by a million people giving small donations and devoting hours to knock on doors.

“I think that is the recipe for re-election, but people need to be inspired,” Ruben said.

It depends on how much you believe the ground game really made a difference in 2008. I don’t think the Obama campaign values it as much as they say in their messages (see all the touting above by Messina about hundreds of thousands of “personal conversations.” That probably includes harassing former volunteers to join up again). In the end, they probably have the view that Democrats have nowhere else to go and will come home in the end.

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David Dayen

David Dayen