Election 2008


This is Day to Day, I'm Madeleine Brand.


And I'm Alex Cohen. When Senator Barack Obama bowed out of the public financing system last week, he called for a new kind of fundraising. He asked donors to give what they could - five dollars, 10 dollars, 20 bucks. Tonight, Senator Obama holds a fundraiser here in southern California, and tickets will go for a bit more than just 20 bucks. Some will cost nearly 30,000 dollars. Here to explain the makeup of Senator Obama's campaign coffers is Ben Smith. He's a reporter with politico.com.

Now Ben, we should start off by explaining that a contribution of less than 200 dollars doesn't have to be itemized in Federal Election Commission reports. So how much of Senator Obama's funds are made up of these smaller donations and how much of it is larger chunks of change?

Mr. BEN SMITH (Reporter, Politico.com): Well, it depends how you count. Something like 93 percent of the contributions come in chunks of 200 dollars or less, and that winds up adding up to something around half of the money he raises.

COHEN: And then, so presumably the other half of it is coming from big donors. Who are they?

Mr. SMITH: Absolutely. I mean, it's the traditional Democratic big donors - bankers, trial lawyers, you know, Hollywood executives. It's been this sort of two-track strategy from the start, both this massive online fundraising drive run by a veteran of the Dean campaign, actually, and meanwhile he hired one of the top professional Democratic fundraisers, a woman named Julianna Smoot, to tap the traditional Democratic networks of money. And so he's kind of been shaking both trees.

COHEN: Can you name some of the names when it comes to these big donors?

Mr. SMITH: It started out with some of his Harvard connections, a guy named Michael Froman, who's a Citigroup executive, a David Geffen on the West Coast - you know, people who have given to the Clintons in the past, often, and worked for the Clintons.

COHEN: So Ben, do you think it's fair for Senator Obama to claim that his grassroots fundraising effort is kind of a whole new way of financing a campaign?

Mr. SMITH: Well, it's not, I mean, it's not a new thing. Howard Dean, notably, did something similar. But Obama's done it on a larger scale, has kind of institutionalized it and been more organized about it. And yeah, I think it is fair to say that it really changes politics. I mean, I've heard, you know, leaders of interest groups, lobbying groups, ethnic groups, you know, special interest groups of various kinds say, you know, we like Obama, but we're concerned that we're not going to be able to buy access.

COHEN: His fundraising was down in May to its lowest point so far this year. Is that cause for concern in his campaign?

Mr. SMITH: Yeah, I think it is. I mean, you know, it dropped to 20 million dollars, a little more, which is an incredibly good month by any other standard. It was John McCain's best month and basically matched Obama. But, you know, it was a month where he was trying to, you know, end the race against Hillary Clinton without appearing triumphalist, at least. It was just before he won, and this month they have been really cranking away for what is expected to be a huge fundraising month. If he only raises - only raises - 20 million dollars this month, I would say he's got a problem. But he's now spending a lot of time courting big donors. His campaign has put out a series of emails and kind of really high-pitched intense appeals to the small donors. So I think that they're going to try to make up for that this month. And also he's bringing in Hillary Clinton's former donors, which is another really deep pool of money, who are ultimately Democrats, and probably will wind up supporting him.

COHEN: Ben Smith covers the Obama campaign for politico.com. Thanks, Ben.

Mr. SMITH: Thank you.

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