Fundraising is Not an Independent Variable

This is reposted from the GOP Tech Summit on Ning. The RNC will be collecting ideas for online activism and its broader implications (my focus here) through the end of the week -- and this is your chance to get your two cents in.  

Traditional campaigns usually unfold in this order:

  1. Raise money and stockpile resources so that you can afford to get your message out.
  2. Spend the money to get your message out and gather support, usually through expensive mediums like TV, radio, or mail.

Barack Obama flipped this model in 2008. Yes, he was able to raise impressive sums early on from bundlers like David Geffen and Penny Pritzker. Considering how the campaign unfolded, this round of funding can be likened to angel investors in a startup: they give enough to buy the pencils and fund operations for a few months, but the company is ultimately expected to sink or swim of its own weight by selling direct to the consumer.

In this case, selling direct to the consumer meant money and volunteer hours, not just votes. Fundraising was not the province of a few bundlers or a few closely guarded lists or of a few direct mail tricks, but of an innovative campaign that fused fundraising, volunteer activity, and vote-getting.

This is what a typical McCain fundraiser in the last campaign looked like:

And this is what a typical Obama fundraiser looked like:

If you're telling yourself that was primarily a rally, not a fundraiser, you're right. The difference is that 1) the event in question was held on February 23, 2007 -- two years ago Monday -- on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin, not exactly when we're used to seeking big rallies and not exactly Iowa or New Hampshire. And 2) to get in to the event, each person had to register for tickets online. Getting someone's e-mail address is like raising $10 or $15, and in Obama's case, probably more like $35 or $40. The 20,000 people at that event probably donated $1,000,000 collectively to Obama -- and the cost of acquisition was nearly zero -- more than all but the most successful rubber chicken Republican fundraisers.

In this way, the traditional model was turned upside down: for the most part, Obama gathered political support and only then did he really kick the fundraising into high gear. This is different -- in a messier and unpredictable way, but also in a more lucrative way -- than stockpiling resources to meet a budget and shifting the focus late in the game from fundraising to grassroots. Cashflow issues aside though, I doubt that the Obama people minded much when the money came in.

The lesson here is that fundraising is not an independent variable. Fundraising is a dependent variable and the independent variable is the message. There does not exist an innate ability to fundraise independent of a strong message -- unless the candidate is fabulously wealthy and can self-fund. And in cases where there might be, all the fundraising in the world cannot overcome a poor message. If a candidate is wealthy or has rich friends, but has no message, the GOP should run -- not walk -- away from that candidate.

This is directly relevant to the RNC -- and all our campaign committees -- because they will often seek out self-funders with the thought that it might relieve the financial burden on the committee and allow it to invest in races where more help is needed. Political consultants often tend to favor this type of candidate -- because they pay. This is all well and good, if the candidate is a good candidate with a strong message, but if not, we're in trouble. And if a race really matters, the RNC or any other committee will probably pour in resources regardless. Paid media is not very leverageable and even $10 million can go to waste quickly if the force multiplier that is the message is zero.

Beyond a focus on self-funders, the all-consuming focus on early high-dollar fundraising is a direct threat to those of us who would like to a see a pervasive grassroots focus throughout the entire campaign. Hundreds of man hours are spent putting together an individual event, by which time the $2,400 check collected at the door nets you $1,500. Hours a day of the candidate's time are spent on the phone with big donors, and then we wonder why candidates are seen as insiders who can't connect with the grassroots. There is no doubt that this model can raise a lot of money. But not enough. Barack Obama shows that the alternative to this can not only raise enough money to compete -- it can utterly destroy the 100 city, $2,400-a-plate tour. Ask Hillary Clinton what it feels like to be the candidate of big donors.

The big donor, big bundler model worked in 2000 and was on its last legs in 2004, but we must now confront the reality that it just doesn't scale very well. It's important that we lay down a clear marker for future campaigns, and institutionalize this at the RNC: finding a creative way to collect 100,000 online petition signatures is now more important than the New York City finance event. I'm sorry, but it just is. It should require more executive level focus. It's more efficient and it scales better and it allows you to do everything you need to do in one fell swoop: get donors and activists all at the same time.

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Quick question

Would you like cheese with your whine?

Clueless loser

According to this blog, the Republican party today is like the teenager who can't get a data.  To figure out why he convenes a Tech Summit.  They decide his problem is that he doesn't have the latest iPod, and he should act more like Obama and date the hot girls.  The problem is: he hasn't figured out why girls don't like him.  Clue: it isn't the iPod.

So suppose today's most popular Republican tries to pull an Obama.  Sarah Palin announces a huge rally at the U. of T.  Do you think more than 100 people would go?  How many of them would eventually donate?  Would they be moved by her message of (Hope and Change) Mavrickyness?

Want people to donate?  Stop having Republican Governors on Tuesday say they will refuse stimulus money and on Wednesday apply for the money.  Stupid inconsistency turns off donors, along with everyone else.

Patrick peddles snake oil again

If you want to increase the Republican's fund raising with the non-moneyed class, the Republicans have to decide that they are going to be a party of the middle class.  No amount of e-mails, internet gimmicks, or Karl Rove tricks can make up for having bad candidates who did everything they could to trash the conservative brand for eight years.

When the Republican Party nominated a candidate who support the idea of selling citizenship to the U.S. at five thousand dollars per illegal aliens, the Republicans had to know that no middle class person would ever donate.  When the Republicans ran up a five trillion dollar deficit and filled the budget with pork, they had to understand that no fiscal conservative would ever donate.  when the Republicans in congress failed for six years to hold government accountable, they had to understand that the small government Republicans would stop donating.  When the Republicans decide that giving no documentation mortgages to illegal aliens who were using stolen identities, they conceded the idea of fund raising, large rallies, or having the middle class care about their candidates.

Instead of worrying about e-mail lists or homepages, how about finding a way to rid the Republicans party of every failed Bush supporter, every idiot who is a former Congressional staffers; and finding leaders who actually believe in conservative ideas.  Until the Republican Party decides to be something other than Democratic party lite with a big helping of religious extremism, there is no hope for elections or funding raising no matter how many internet gimmiciks are proposed by the Karl Rove wannabes like Patrick.

Patrick gets kudos from me for no more same-old, same-old

Patrick's idea that Republicans need to co-opt the Obama fund raising model would at least represent a new way of doing things. My fear is that the GOP is perfectly content to ride the natural swing of the pendulum from left to right. And really do nothing other than what has always been standard operating procedure.

The 2006 election represented a natural swing of the political pendulum which had been headed rightwards since 1980. Now it is on a 25 year swing to the left. If Republicans do nothing but be patient, history would seem to indicate that they will start their comeback around 2030.

However, history might not be a guide anymore. No one can deny that the Internet and Barack Obama have shattered our paradigms. Love him or hate him, Barack sure isn't business as usual on any level. He could come up with new ways of politicing and governing that throw the political pendulum in the garbage.

My farthest out prediction, at the extreme edge of possibility is: Barack will trade constitutional admendments with the GOP. Give us the end of presidential term limits, and we will give you an end to the natural born citizen provision. That let's your rock star, "Ah-nuld", run against our rock star.

Even if that does not happen I am 100% sure we will watch the news in the next 8 years and many times be forced to think "Well I'll be damned, that never happened before." So any new idea for the GOP is better than recycling the old ones.

art, if history is our guide

odds are we will be in some sort of authoritarian dictatorship within ten years.

Happy worldwide depression to you!


You have hit the nail on the head.

If we expect to compete in future campaigns we have to be able to compete at the same level.  I too fear though that since the majority of our party are older they will not be willing to adapt to this new form of fund raising. Another point is that this same "Change" MUST apply to the way we campaign. Trashing and screaming and twisting the facts will no longer work either and you can again use Hillary Clinton as an example. Karl Rove needs to be shown the pasture along with Limbaugh the Magic Moron. His comments yesterday comparing the Dems to men who behead their wives did not garner us one vote unless it came from a nut job that does nothing short of embarrass our party. How do we get a handle on these folks? We let them KNOW we will no longer stand for it nor support it.

Thanks, but no thanks.

Thanks, but no thanks.  Ahnuld isn't any dream Republican candidate.  He's a moderate in terminator clothing.

Barack will trade constitutional admendments with the GOP. Give us the end of presidential term limits, and we will give you an end to the natural born citizen provision. That let's your rock star, "Ah-nuld", run against our rock star.

Anyway, I think Patrick's on the right track with how to expend both fund raising, and gathering emails for further volunteering and marketing.

Actually the 2 methods, the rubber chicken dinner, and the populist rally, could be combined on the same day.  Have the rally in the afternoon, and have the dinner at night. 

One problem I've always had with rallies, is they're in the middle of the day, which means taking a whole day off of work.  I personally don't want to spend a PTO day to support my candidate.  That in itself raises the cost of supporting the candidate.  It's cheaper for me to write a check, then to take a day off from work.

Now I did take a day off to try and see President Bush when he came to town, but for a campaign rally.  When Mitch Daniels was doing his RV tour of the state, my wife and I attended several events of his.  Most were either after work, or on weekends.

And the problem I have with the rubber chicken dinners is the entry price is so high.  I think the last one I got started at $500 for just the dinner, then went up from there.

To hold successful rallies, you have to have a candidate/speakers who can really turn up the fire.  It's both the message and the speakers.  Bob Dole was dull.  McCain was greatest when he was up on stage, and doing things off the cuff.  His speaches weren't very inspiring though.

Rallies require supporters to be excited

Patrick refuses to discuss what issues will get conservatives excited enough to sign up for a rally and give up their e-mail addresses.  I doubt that the last eight years of Republicans supported pork barrel spending is going to get people excited.  I doubt that the open border and unlimited immigration policies of the every Republican since Reagan is going to get the middle class out to a rally.  I doubt if capital gains tax cuts, more entitlement spending, more social engineering proposals are going to get conservatives out to rally around idiots like Romney or Huckabee.

The Republican's lack of fund raising is more due to the total lack of leadership in the Republican party, the anti-intellectualism of the Bush Administartion, and the inability of Congressional Republicans to control themselves and behave like conservatives. 

No matter how Patrick spins this, people will not donate to the incomptent idiots who are at the top of the Republican Party.  Until control is taken away from the former Bush staffers, nothing is going to help and no internet gimmick will have any positive effect.

Analyse the Past for Better future performance

So, the 2010 midterm elections are comming up.  Yeah, it sucks, but we (the GOP especially) have to be planning what we/they are going to change to elect more Republicans to the House and Senate.

Michael Steele is off to a good start in changing the message.  The House Republicans and most of the Senate are off to a good start in changing their actions.  We'll see by the end of the year how they've done.

My biggest question to the GOP would be, how are you going to prevent the descent from fiscal responsibilty that occured over the last 8 years (although 2 of those years the Dem's had control of Congress.)

Speaking for myself, I don't think the intent of this post by Patrick, was to go over all the issues, but talk about the tactics of fundraising, and gathering information.  And you can't tell me that in 24 pages of posts, Patrick hasn't talked about issues that will drive conservatives, and other Republicans to open their wallets, donate time, and vote in the polls.


 although 2 of those years the Dem's had control of Congress 

This is a golden oldie that won't fly any more.   There was always a branch of either the legislature or the presidency itself controlled by democrats in the post war era that Republicans blamed their fiscal irresponsibility on. But there has never been a Republican House, a Republican Senate or a Republican Senate that has ever proposed a smaller budget than the previous year. 9 of the 10 trillion dollars of debt took place under Republican presidents, and HALF of that  total took place under complete Republican control.

This is no an issue of "returning" to core principles. It's an issue of the bumper sticker sloganeering being exposed as simple falsehoods. 

And if the republican rank and file really cared about any of these principles, Bush would have lost to a primary opponent. Instead he was lionized as a manly hero.  It's about tribalism and power, not policy.


What's changing?

You say Republicans in Congress are changing.  How?  Voting against the stimulus then taking credit for it?  Lying about the CBO report?  What good have they done? (Hint: approval of Republicans in Congress has gone down this month while approval of Democrats in Congress went up).

These results indicate that,

These results indicate that, assuming conference affiliation does not change, an athletic fund raising practitioner should carefully track home football attendance as an indicator of fund raising contributions. A fairly strong positive relationship (r=.721) was found between these two variables. Other changeable variables of interest to practitioners in this regard are football winning percentage (r=.322) and men's basketball home attendance (r=.237), however, neither approaches home football attendance in the ability to predict athletic fund raising contributions. Business Lawyer Colorado

Message begets money; was 2008 an outlier or a harbinger?

Patrick identifies the two key inversions Obama's operation achieved.

  1. Message begets money
  2. Little money trumps big money

And it is important that we are analysing and evaluating the success of Obama08.

Nevertheless it remains an open question whether Obama08 truly represents a new model or was more a reflection of the particular conditions of the 2008 political moment. In order to be useful a model must be repeatable and sustainable. If the 2008 cycle was an unusual period of political engagement how confident can anyone be that Obama's message/small money success will prove out as a model when the electorate is not as charged up as it was in 2008?

Is it not too early to discount the importance of the particular circumstances of 2008? Were the circumstances more important than the campaign's message/money model? How often will these circumstances be in play?

  • An unpopular war
  • An unpopular President
  • A charismatic and articulate candidate whose very ethnicity reinforced the central themes of his candidacy
  • A candidate newly arrived on the national scene whose profile had been boosted by his very strong speech at the 2004 convention
  • A candidate whose opposition to the war differentiated him from his strongest competitors on the most important early issue in the campaign

In a cycle where the appeal of the message is not so well prepared by circumstances not of the candidate's making will big money again be the difference?

If the energy of the 2008 cycle was indeed a harbinger of renewed citizen engagement in politics, it will be good for our democracy and it will indeed signal a major change in what it takes to run an effective campaign. The answer remains to be seen.

while this is true, Webb Tester and Lamont

also ran on some of the same, with a larger audience and a smaller electorate.

I tend to believe that these sorts of small donor ideas are BETTER STRATEGY as it allows parties to concentrate fire at the weakest links of the other party.

Which is better for democracy as a whole.

It's really worse that that

 Sarah Palin announces a huge rally at the U. of T.  Do you think more than 100 people would go

The real problem is Sarah Palin is the only Republican who would attract more than 100 people, who would later contribute to her campaign.

The party's postwar lies about their policy positions have been exposed by their years of control from 2001-2006. Turns out they are not the party in favor of free markets, smaller government, fiscal prudence and lower taxes (deficit spending defers and increases taxes, rather than lowering them).  It turns out that the best description of Republican economic policy is using government to transfer income from the bottom 9 deciles to top decile of earners, with a special extra bonus to the top percentile.

They've also lied to the movement conservatives. I guarantee you that Jenna/Not Jenna, Meghan McCain, and Sarah Huckabee haven't practiced abstainance only birth control.  Cheney's proud to have a granddaughter with lesbian parents.  The party was run for four years by a guy barely in the closet, and there are at least a few closeted Republican Senators. Vitter has not been driven from office.

The people who who still buy this nonsense are the same people who see Palin as the savior of the party, and they are smack dab in the center of the party.

I can buy a guitar and sing songs about cars and New Jersey

but that doesn't make me Bruce Springsteen.

20K attendees at a rally 18 months before the general election is amazing - especially when you consider that the economy hadn't tanked yet, so those people were there to hear about things other than their immediate pocketbook issues.


Rally size.

I heard Plouffe and Axelrod speaking at a campaign post mortem panel at one of the colleges. They said that the famous "Celebrity" ad was a blessing. Obama's crowds were growing so large that the advance work and money to produce rallies was snowballing out of control. After "Celebrity" they made sure to book Obama in venues that only held 5K-10K,

After early voting began, they shifted back to larger venues, and once again drew the 25K+ crowds they had pre-Celebrity. Because every rally was GOTV in the last month. How anyone could look at the size of Obama's crowds in the last two weeks before the election, and not know what the outcome was going to be, is completely beyond my understanding.

many folks lack basic strategic knwoledge

obama was never as much about swaying the middle via poll numbers and debates -- he was about maximizing his base (which included independents and old-school republicans). very different strategy.

Despite the scholarly

Despite the scholarly interest in presidential nomination campaigns, existing research has given limited attention to the role of fundraising in these campaigns. I attempt to fill this void by developing a model based upon the hypothesized relationship between candidates' electoral success and increases in their subsequent fundraising. Using data from three recent nomination campaigns and pooled cross-sectional time-series analyses, I present results suggesting that success and media coverage have a strong impact upon the subsequent fundraising of long-shot candidates, while the subsequent fundraising of established candidates is attributable to their viability. The observed differences in the relationship are due to the expectations associated with the two candidate types. cold flu


Patrick, Patrick.

To paraphrase the inimitable Dorothy Parker at the Algonquin soirées,


"You can lead political whores to water, but you can't make them think."


All your plans here for implementing a new way of thinking for the GOP are going to be met with blank, hostile stares as the Political Consultant class, the consigliere class, the pollster and pundit industry, and the GOP candidate class are asked to throw the tried and true GOP playbook into the trash and sally forth to electoral battle as Obama Lite.

Call me when you and your new GOP get there, and be safe, K?

Patrick's meritorious idea

If every liberal on this site is coming out of the woodwork to trash Patrick's idea, then maybe he's on to something.  I think Patrick's absolutely right - message is the independent variable, and you get money by having a message that appeals to people, gets them excited, and gets them to voluntarily open up their checkbooks.  Before the election I read an article about this one Maryland woman who took out a HELOC in order to donate the maximum amount that she could to Obama's campaign.  I thought that was simply insane - why would your average citizen go into that much debt over a mere political campaign?  But it was because she was over-the-top enthusiastic about her guy.  The enthusiasm came first, and the enthusiasm can only be generated by the message.

He doesn't have an idea

Patrick doesn't have an idea.  He has a wish.  He wishes more people would go to Republican rallies.  He wishes the most popular Republican in America, Sarah Palin, was not a joke. 


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The Person Is The Message

Obama was the message. His persona was the reason for the initial outpouring of support. He represented the ideal for liberals...what our very best hope for ourselves. The only other democract who could match his appeal was Hillary, but she never marshalled her army until it was too late. So you do need a candidate who has drawing power in order to use the multiplier effect of the internet and mass participation. However, the only conservative candidate that can inspire such fervor is Palin, but so far she is a fatally flawed candidate.

I hope she has capable strategists around her that will tell her that even if she won the republican nomination, she would lose badly in the general election. She is tougher and smarter than conservatives (with their over-protection) and liberals (with their scorn) and I hope she realizes her first job is to reform the republican party from a paranoid, xenophobic, rigid group to an opposition party in which Americans can take them seriously. She is the only person with the kind of clout with conservatives who could lead them away from the demographic abyss they face. Either reform and compete in 12 years or wither away and hope for new conservative party in 30 years.

Total Catch-22

So the only person capable of reforming the GOP, is not a person capable of reforming the GOP?

Palin does inspire people in the same manner that Barack's cult of personality works, albeit at a diminished level. But in terms of intellectual ability, they are not in the same universe. Barack has written more books than Sarah has read.

If we could just graft Newt's mind into Palin's body, then.....

Newt's Mind on Palin's Body

..We'll get a truly promiscuous, unprincipled, amoral Newt Palin.

Imagine you're Todd Palin?  EWWWWW

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Fundraising is Not an Independent Variable


Your article is very insightful. I'm one of those "old" fund raising types. Just this past December I began resaerching how Obama accomplished raising so much money through the grass roots. Your photo of the "a typical Obama fundraiser" vs. "a typical McCain fundraiser" is THE answer to my question.

I've already sent it to some of the key people in the NY20 race. With only 38 days before our Special Election, the older model is going to prevail, but once Jim Tedisco wins I'll try to hammer the "smarter way" home, for the future.

I'll also do my best to make sure that Michael Steele reads it.

The pictures do sum it up nicely.

Try finding someone in the GOP fundraiser that is not an old, white, rich, male.

Try finding someone in the Obama fundraiser that is.

Nuff said.

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