June 04, 2003
Howard Dean Cashing In From Microfinance

The Washington Post is reporting that Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean has raised $1 million from contributions made online through his Web site. University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato is quoted in the piece describing this as an example of a clear trend towards lesser-known candidates using microfinancing to stay competitive with better-funded opponents:

“They can’t afford high-priced consultants. They can’t afford direct mail, which eats up sometimes 80 percent of what it raises,” Sabato said. “So they have to depend on person-to-person fund raising, and that’s the Internet. There’s almost no overhead with Internet fund raising.”

(Of course, regular readers of AEV already knew that!)

The article also points to John McCain’s online raising of $1 million in 48 hours in the 2000 cycle as similar to Dean’s accomplishment. McCain was definitely a pioneer in online fundraising, but I think Dean’s case is a little different. How so? Well, McCain was in second place behind Bush for most of that race, so his name recognition and status as a “real candidate” were much higher then than Dean’s probably are now. Also, McCain was also just coming off an explosive upset win in the New Hampshire primary at the time, which would have spurred fund-raising no matter how the contributions were taken.

Most significantly, though, Dean has been much more aggressive about using the Internet for organizing than McCain was — for example, Dean has been using Meetup to organize meetings of supporters around the country, all without spending a dime on infrastructure. (And he’s raised $330,000 just from people who come to those Meetup events, too. Not too shabby.)

Taken together, I think this means that Dean’s accomplishment is more important than the Post gives him credit for. Will other candidates get a clue and follow his lead?

Posted by Jason Lefkowitz at June 04, 2003
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