Damn you, Barack Obama

By AL GIORDANO  |  September 26, 2007

Oh my. That sure makes for a different narrative than has ever occurred before — especially because most of Obama's record-breaking campaign war chest comes from small donors. That fact presages a very different Democratic nomination process for 2008 than has ever been seen. And that's why even many of us who would like to ignore it can't turn our heads away.

Obama is raising campaign money faster than even the Clinton machine is. So the real surprise of the 2008 Democratic nomination contest is that, for the first time since Robert F. Kennedy's 1968 campaign, the upstart rival will be able to outspend the anointed Democratic front-runner.

He's a senator from Illinois, a big-money state, and powerbrokers from Warren Buffett to David Geffen to Oprah Winfrey are on board the Obama fundraising train. But Obama's gotten the bulk of the $58 million he's raised in the first half of 2007 from small donations (averaging $224), and without accepting money from DC lobbyists or Political Action Committees (PACs).

A close look at the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) filings by the Clinton and Obama campaigns suggests that when the next filing is due, on October 15, Obama is likely to emerge ahead of Clinton, in terms of cash-on-hand, heading into January's caucuses and primaries. Here's why.

Most of Obama's money ($34 million of his $58 million) comes from more than 200,000 small donors, who, because they're not even close to having given the maximum $2300 allowed by law, he can tap again and again.

By contrast, a whopping 70 percent of the Clinton's funds have come from donors who have already "maxed out" and cannot give again. Of the money Clinton has reported to date, only $19 million of her $63 million comes from donors who remain beneath the $2300 ceiling.

Obama has the upper hand.

Let's look a little closer. More than 110,000 of those Obama donors gave $17 million via the Internet. Many other Obama contributors are folks who shelled out $10 or $25 to attend one of his speeches. (Obama continues drawing the largest and most enthusiastic crowds across the country.) Only 45,000 of Obama's 258,000+ donors gave more than $200. That leaves more than 213,000 very small contributors who have effectively rewritten the history of political-campaign funding.

It's as if, after waiting for decades for reformers in Washington to get serious about public financing of electoral campaigns, a significant chunk of the public has moved out in front of the policy-makers and taken matters into its own hands.

Obama has not only out-raised the Clinton machine, but also each of the Republican candidates for president. The era of supremacy by the well-heeled "max out" donor is finally being chipped down to size, one small donation at a time. (For those wishing to do the math themselves, Opensecrets.org provides a wonderful online guide to following the money trail.) Win or lose, Obama — or, better said, his grassroots supporters — may have already brought a revolution in campaign financing that finally weans the process from it previous dependence on influence money.

Of course, more (and mostly cleaner) money alone won't seal the deal for Obama. It merely means that if he does reasonably well in early 2008, he'll have the staying power — even the dominant position — to drive the roller coaster successfully without falling off the tracks that lead to the Democratic National Convention next summer in Denver.

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