Big Money Still Rules


Catherine Holahan, writing at BusinessWeek, published a story last week on how the various presidential candidates are having tremendous success at attracting contributions from small donors, those who make gifts of less than $200. The campaigns are tapping blogs, e-mails, social networks, YouTube videos, and their own Web sites to reach into the hearts and pockets of new contributors. This year’s campaigns are receiving more small donations than the campaigns in previous elections, according to the Campaign Finance Institute.

However, this year’s candidates are also receiving more large money donations than ever before. And apparently the ratio of large donors to those who give $200 or less has remained relatively the same as in prior elections. So you have to wonder about the ‘new’ conventional wisdom that large donors means less to the candidates this year as a result of the influe of small money, and that some how the campaign finance system that allows the big donors to get their hooks into the candidates is less awful than its ever been because of the influx of small money.

You see, bundlers, those well connected individuals that mobilize their wealthy friends and acquaintances to make contributions, have had a big hand in funding the campaigns. Nancy Watzman, my longtime friend and colleague at Public Campaign, has explained how large donors continued to dominate presidential fundraisings in the third quarter of last year, the latest figures available. (Note: the campaigns are required to report on their fourth quarter fundraising on January 31. And there is no indication that their will be a significant change in giving patterns.)

Late last year, the Center for Responsive Politics completed an analysis of giving that found that the big givers — wealthy individuals, top industries and interest groups, have increased their giving over 2004 by 46 percent.

So, despite the fact that small donors, many of whom are contirbuting over the Internet, are making it easier for candidates to raise more small money, the golden rule in funding candidates — thems that have got the gold, rule — still pertains.