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Further to my earlier post about how Obama’s $150 million September serves to utterly vindicate the vision of Joe Trippi and Howard Dean, comes this interesting observation by Al Girodano about the donor base:

With an average contribution of $86 that means that more than 1.7
million people donated last month. Plouffe reports that September
brought 632,000 new donors. The interesting number to me is the
remainder: more than one million people out of almost 2.5 million that
had given earlier in the year gave again in September
.

Recall that Joe Trippi’s vision was a million donors giving $100 each – at an average contribution of $86, and repeat givng, it’s clear that the vision was actually conservative! But it isn’t just the money, either – small-dollar donors convert much more readily into ground activists as well:

That’s the day I learned the phrase, “the donor-activist model.” The
concept was this: that if you get a regular working person to give even
a small amount of money – say, five dollars – that person had now made
an investment and would work harder as a volunteer because he and she
would then want a return on that investment.

The small-dollar donor is essentially an investor buying “stock” in a company. They become invested in the company’s success, and so will act to help bring that success about long-term. The analogy also holds for big-dollar donors, who for a campaign are really buying access, not success. In many ways, big donors don’t really care if the candidate wins, they are just hedging their bets, and if the candidate loses they still retain influence. This is akin to large investors who buy millions of shares in a stock, not for any long-term investment strategy but rather to make a short-term or medium-term profit.

Finally, Giordano echoes Trippi’s Perfect Storm essay in observing how the activist-donor base empowers a genuinely different kind of politics:

Should Obama win the White House, he’ll be the first president in
ages who can afford to buck the instructions of the super rich and
their bidders (he’s already told their lobbyists and PACs that their
money is no good to him) and count with the sufficiently large small
donor base to back him up for reelection should that happen. 

[…]

the donor-activists are going to want a return on their
investment in his candidacy: they now outnumber the influence donors
not only in population, but, newly, in buying power. They – the people
that gave five or ten or a hundred bucks – and then worked the phones
and the neighborhoods to get a return on that investment – may soon
become the most special interest in America.

This isn’t mere populism, but rather something new – to borrow the phrase from the Dean days, a “people-powered” politics.

Related: Internet Politics 101: The List vs The Network

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