Saturday, June 21, 2008

Money for nothing?

A liberal academic writes a column exposing "the small-donor fallacy" -- especially that Barack Obama's fundraising is somehow different from other candidates:
Contributions of less than $200 do not have to be itemized in reports to the Federal Election Commission, so we have no idea how many are made. We also cannot rely on the candidates' rhetoric to match the facts. During a Feb. 26 debate in Cleveland, for example, Obama said that "we have now raised 90 percent of our donations from small donors, $25, $50." His campaign's own data from January 2007 through January 2008 show that 36 percent of donated funds were from small donors. Obama probably meant that 90 percent of the individuals who contributed were small donors, but the number of donors has not been verified. . . .
[F]or most of his campaign, big donors have been Obama's mainstay. Employees of investment bank Goldman Sachs, for example, have contributed more than $570,000 to his campaign.
So much for the idea that Obama is collecting campaign cash mostly from the downtrodden masses, an idea that is further exposed as ridiculous:
Another problem with asserting that small donors are an antidote to undue influence by wealthy contributors is that even small donors are almost certainly much richer than the average American.
In a study of $100 contributions to state campaigns in six states during 2005, the Campaign Finance Institute found that more than half of donors earned between $75,000 and $250,000 a year. The median U.S. income that year was $46,000. While it's tricky to extrapolate to the presidential race, it is unlikely that campaign giving has suddenly become a common pursuit of working-class families.
Professor Jay Mandle's class-warfare theme and his call for more campaign finance regulations are unfortunate, but he is onto something important: The reality of Obama's fundraising doesn't necessarily match the perception. Just because a donor gave contributions via the Internet, rather than buying a ticket to a $500-a-plate fundraiser, doesn't really mean anything except perhaps saving the candidate the cost of putting on a dinner.

UPDATE: How does this relate to Obama's dishonest attack on Republicans as the tools of "special interests"?

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