2016 Presidential Candidates Get Creative - and Desperate - in Last-Minute Fundraising Pitches

PHOTO: Pictured from left, Martin OMalley, Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush.Getty Images
Pictured from left, Martin O'Malley, Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush.

As the Super Moon cast its blood orange glow across the night sky the other night, some religious leaders said it was a sign of a looming apocalyptic deadline. Back on earth, in the depths of campaign headquarters across the country, fear of a different date was nigh — the stroke of midnight tonight, also known as the third quarter Federal Election Commission filing deadline.

You’re “running out of time” wrote Ben Carson’s campaign. “There’s so much on the line” emailed George P. Bush on behalf of his dad Jeb. The “deadline is approaching” said Lindsey Graham’s campaign. And “friend,” wrote Sen. Cory Booker on behalf of Hillary Clinton — “she needs us.”

Midnight marks the close of books for the October quarterly financial reports, which cover campaign disbursements and donations from July 1 to Sept. 30. And as is the case right before every big fundraising deadline, staffers and surrogates have been reaching out to supporters with increasing frequency, warning them of what is at stake for their candidate. Their reputation! Their competitive edge! The fate of the entire campaign! Many of the breathless pleas for cash struck notes of near desperation, while others pitched less doom and gloom.

Democratic presidential candidate and former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley -- currently polling at less than 1 percent nationally -- is offering for one lucky person the chance to be personally serenaded by him on his guitar.

“Let me write you a song,” O’Malley tweeted this week.

(No donation necessary, although O’Malley’s website encourages even a modest $5 contribution).

The Rubio campaign took a different tack, offering prospective donors the opportunity to “adopt” one of their staffers for a day. A $250 donation through the campaign’s online store will buy you recognition on the campaign website and Twitter, an update from the adopted staffer and a postcard from the campaign.

Fundraising is a major indicator of viability in political campaigns, and a strong showing is an even more important differentiator in a crowded field. As a last-minute plea from South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham’s presidential campaign noted, “A lot is riding on the numbers we report. My opponents will view it as a sign of the strength of our campaign, and the media will use it as a barometer to measure the support we have.”

Email inbox marketing directly appeals to low threshold donors, with most candidates asking for checks in the $5 to $250 range. And it’s far less expensive than direct mail that can cost millions of dollars in production and postage. Email fundraising also gives campaigns the chance to make immediate voter contact—but it has to stand out in an inbox.

To avoid being tossed to junk mail, campaigns take novel approaches such as addressing recipients as “friend” (Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton), or even more exclusively, labeling the email for “top supporters only” (Mike Huckabee).

Jeb Bush supporters saw emails from two Georges—Jeb Bush’s son, George P. Bush, and his father, former president George H.W. Bush. Both notes are up-front about campaign financial needs and fundraising expectations.

In an email request titled, “As real as it gets,” George P. Bush writes, “I’m personally reaching out because we’re two days away from the biggest deadline of this campaign and we’re still $126,724 short of our goal.” The midnight deadline “isn’t a ploy,” says Bush. “It’s as real as it gets. We have to publicly say how much money we raise in the next 48 hours, so missing this goal is NOT an option.”

Other campaigns are using the filing deadline emails as an attempt to tout their progress. In a slight stretch, Carly Fiorina claims that she is currently in second place in the GOP field, and requests a rather superstitious $13 to secure her luck in the polls. Meanwhile, the Graham campaign reassures supporters that the crowds at “events are growing” and “more people are signing up to volunteer.”

For those near the bottom of the barrel, reaching out is also a chance to remind voters that their campaigns are still alive and kicking.

For Democratic presidential candidate Jim Webb, who is hovering around 1% support in the polls, donating is almost a post script. Instead, his email requests “a high $5” for Webb making radio waves on the Alan Colmes show.