Obama’s Online Success is Unlikely for Congress

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President-Elect Barack Obama's incredible ability to generate small online donations has some members of Congress thinking they can apply his methods to their campaigns. That flies in the face of reality.


The Washington Post today reports that the presidential campaign of Sen. Barack Obama raised $500 million online from 3 million donors. In “Obama Raised Half a Billion Online” the President-Elect’s Triple O online team reports that the donors made 6.5 million online donations with 6 million in increments of $100 or less. The average donor gave $80.


It’s likely that many politicians will be swayed to follow Obama’s lead as they plan their next race. It’s a noble idea, but runs counter to the reality of the way Congressional candidates win elections.


The non-partisan Campaign Finance Institute reported that the average U.S. House candidate raised 10 percent of his funds through small donations in the 2008 election cycle, while 35 percent came in donations of $1,000 or more. Congressional candidates in the current election cycle spent an estimated $1.9 billion, nearly double the $1.1 billion spent in 2000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. U.S. House members raised nearly 80 percent of their campaign funds from outside their districts, according to MAPLight.org. Of the top 20 contributing Zip codes, 15 are in and around Washington, D.C.


Those facts lead to a blunt conclusion – Congressional candidates are raising more money than ever from wealthy donors that don’t even live in their district.