A lot of Internet and politics experts have been sitting around waiting for someone in the 2008 presidential race to emerge as the next Net candidate in the mold of Howard Dean. After last night it appears that that candidate has been found. Ron Paul, a backbench 9-term congressman who previously sought the presidency on the Libertarian ticket in 1988, raised over $4 million online yesterday to set the record for most money raised by a presidential candidate online in a 24 hour span. The amazing thing about this haul of money is that it was not organized by the campaign but was instead a supporter generated “cashmob”. (The supporters actually referred to it as a “money-bomb”.) The Paul campaign took advantage of their supporter’s enthusiasm by creating the most transparent campaign finance decision possible: to publish in real-time each online donation as it happens. By making their campaign finance transparent the Paul campaign encouraged their supporters to do their own work by showing them exactly what they were accomplishing. It’s Howard Dean’s bat on crack.
Not only does this enable supporters to keep track of their tally for the work they are doing it also brings the attention of those who would normally ignore the Paul campaign site. Last night I found myself, in no way interested in Ron Paul the candidate, watching the total amount of money raised tick up as the names and hometowns of donors flashed across Paul’s campaign site. What I was seeing was a campaign giving control to its supporters and letting them be the story.
Araba Sey and Manuel Castells write that, “by changing the direction and the content of the flow of information through the use of the Internet, the range of political actors is broadened, new avenues of collective mobilization may appear, and a different format of debate may take place, transforming the political scene that had been framed by the one-way communication systems of the mass media era.” Jerome Armstrong at MyDD explains how the Paul campaign is tacitly encouraging this kind of behavior:
Look how, on his website, how Paul pushes his supporters out onto the social networking platforms of Technorati, del.icio.us, Digg, Facebook, Stumble Upon, and Newsvine.
Its a brilliant tactic, because rather than having to develop these costly platforms that take up valuable time, or rely upon closed vendor systems that use laggard technology, the campaign just uses the existing infrastructure built by others for that specific vertical. There is no RonPaul2008.com community. Instead, it exists out on the web, outside the campaign website walls. So rather than all their own supporters talking to eachother, they are forced to congregate in places where others that don't support Paul gather. Evangelize. Outreach.
If you’ve been on Digg this year you’ll notice the proliferation of Ron Paul related Diggs. Paul is also the only candidate who appears to be using Meetup, a highly successful strategy of the Dean campaign. But a big factor is the simple decision to make his campaign finance haul transparently available in real-time is truly an empowering decision for his supporters. Allowing access to previously privileged information to those who may care the most enables greater activity across the board in support of the candidate.