How Jumping Castles, Waffle Irons Are Helping To Elect Obama

Grassroots organizers are throwing yard sales, carnivals to fundraise for Obama.

ByAmy Bingham
September 14, 2012, 3:12 PM

Sept. 17, 2012 -- A jumping castle, a giant water slide, a rusty waffle iron and a dusty bicycle, those are the tools grassroots fundraisers are using to help President Obama win re-election.

In an effort to combat deep-pocketed Super PACs backed by billionaire Republican donors, Obama supporters in California and New York are hosting small-scale neighborhood events to raise money for the president's campaign.

In San Francisco, Mandy Silverman and Sean Dabel are asking friends and neighbors to earn a little extra cash by selling their old bikes, discarded kitchen appliances or any other items they aren't using and donate the proceeds to the Obama campaign.

"A lot of people out here have a lot of support for the president and haven' t donated anything to the campaign, but they may have $100 worth of items sitting around that they don't need anymore that could help," Dabel said.

Over the weekend Dabel and Silverman are hoping to recruit more than 500 co-hosts nationwide to host their own "Yard Sale for Obama" on Sept. 22 - 23. Their goal is to raise $100,000.

As ardent Obama supporters, Dabel said he and Silverman were starting to feel "powerless" against the big money pouring into Super PACs allied with Romney.

"When we are out here thinking about the presidential election it started to feel like it was being taken out of the hands of ordinary everyday people," said Dabel, a district attorney in the San Francisco Bay area.

After casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson pledged $100 million to help Mitt Romney win in November, Dabel said the pair was inspired to "put in our very best effort" to help Obama where they could, at the grassroots level.

"This does feel really middle class, this idea of a yard sale, the coming together and understanding that we have each others' back and we are going to move the country forward," said Silverman, who does marketing for a start-up company in San Francisco.

Obama has had far more fundraising success at the grassroots level than his Republican opponent. According to campaign disclosures compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, 39 percent of the president's re-election funds have come from small donations of $250 or less. Romney has raised just 19 percent of his campaign cash from small donors.

Two million of the 3.1 million people that have donated to Obama's re-election effort have given $25 or less, according to his campaign.

"That is a critical downpayment on the organization we are building across the country — the largest grassroots campaign in history," Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said after announcing that Obama had out-raised Romney in August.

While Silverman and Dabel are not coordinating their event with the Obama campaign, the president's re-election Twitter handle tweeted a link to the web page Friday and added the group's photo to its Tumblr page.

In Montclair, N.J., Adam Gale and his wife Liz threw a pro-Obama bash this weekend to raise money for the president. The couple is blowing up a jumping castle and a giant water slide for the kids and setting up an online donation site for the parents to donate to Obama's campaign.

"The big Super PACs, I think, are scary in the sense that they really allow a small group of people to have outside influence on the election in a way that's not good for the country," said Gale, who works as a lawyer in New York City. "Hopefully these kinds of grassroots events can counteract it to some extent."

"For me personally," Gale added, "I feel like I want to do whatever I can and not just sit idly by and not do anything to try to help President Obama win."

The Gale family hosted a similar event during the 2008 election and raised between $1,000 and $1,500 for then-Sen. Obama's campaign. This year, Gale said he hopes to raise "a few thousand."

Because campaign finance laws prohibit them from using paid advertising, the Yard Sale for Obama organizers teamed up with a cohort of their engineering friends to create a YouTube video promoting the yard sale. But the result is no ordinary online ad.

Five months, three helium canisters and one crash water landing later, Dabel launched a three minute video of an Obama bobble head attached to a weather balloon floating into space.

The bobble head, which is mounted behind a tiny white picket fence "getting ready for his yard sale," as Dabel said, soars 20 miles above the city with the earth curving behind the president's nodding plastic head before the balloon pops and the mini-Obama figurine parachutes back to the ground.

"This is really a huge thing. We can't spend any money on marketing so Sean came up with this idea," Silverman said, adding if viewers "want to get excited about Obama that's cool. If they want to get excited about geeking out on space parts that's cool, too."

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