Report: Obama Didn’t Have as Many Small Donors as Was Hyped

Nov 25, 2008 9:26am

The Campaign Finance Institute issued a "Reality Check" report that demolishes the myth that President-elect Obama was largely funded by small donors.

In reality, says the non-partisan group, the percentage of small donors who gave to the Obama campaign — 26 percent –  is roughly the same as the percentage of small donors who contributed to President Bush’s reelection in 2004, 25 percent.

"It turns out that Barack Obama’s donors may not have been quite as different as we had thought," says the Institute’s study. "Throughout the election season, this organization and others have been reporting that Obama received about half of his discrete contributions in amounts of $200 or less. The Campaign Finance Institute (CFI) noted in past releases that donations are not the same as donors, since many people give more than once. After a more thorough analysis of data from the Federal Election Commission (FEC), it has become clear that repeaters and large donors were even more important for Obama than we or other analysts had fully appreciated."

"The myth is that money from small donors dominated Barack Obama’s finances," said CFI’s executive director Michael J. Malbin. "The reality of Obama’s fundraising was impressive, but the reality does not match the myth."

Only 26 percent of PEBO’s money through August 31 (and 24 percent of his funds through October 15) came from donors whose total contributions aggregated to $200 or less, the Institute says.

The change in record-keeping comes after the Institute merged the donor records, combining multiple records, which updated the data base, revealing that 580,000 different people ultimately gave more than $200 so they were no longer considered "small donors."

PEBO ultimately received about 80 percent more money from large donors (giving more than $1,000) than from small donors — 47 percent of his total cash, compared with 56 percent for Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., in 2004, and 60 percent for both Bush and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

The Institute estimates that through the end of August, PEBO raised $90 million with the help of bundlers, $120 million or so from other large donors, and $119 million from small donors. "The comparison should make one think twice before describing small donors as the financial engine of the Obama campaign," the Institute concludes.

Campaign spox Ben LaBolt tells ABC News, "Our campaign was fueled by contributions from over 3.95 million Americans, and we didn’t accept a dime from PACs or Washington lobbyists. 91 percent of our contributions were in amounts of $100 or less, and while the total contributions from donors who gave a small amount to the campaign each month over the course of two years surpassed $200 in certain cases, there’s no doubt that small dollar contributors played a critical and unprecedented role in Barack Obama’s victory."

What this comes down to is an assertion from the Obama folks that the Institute’s calculations are based on an old total number of donors to the campaign –- nearly 3 million — instead of the 3.95 million Americans who donated to the campaign.

The Obama team rejects the fundamental hypothesis of the study. If you were a donor who saved up to donate $20 to the campaign every couple months over the course of two years, an aide says, and all of those contributions eventually added up to more than $200, that doesn’t mean you’re not a small dollar donor.

– jpt

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