Each week, Michele Bachmann’s presidential primary campaign sends an e-mail to grassroots supporters summarizing the latest news about her campaign, and asking for a few more dollars.
“I hope that you will consider making a contribution of $25, $50, $100, or any amount up to the legal limit to help us spread our message of growth and prosperity in this busy time,” Bachmann said in a recent one.
The Minnesota congresswoman began raising money for a presidential bid in mid-June, two weeks before the second-quarter fundraising reporting deadline of June 30. In that period, she raised as much money from donors who gave less than $200 -- a total of $1.1 million -- as primary rival Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts Governor, did in more than two months.
Bachmann’s reliance on small donors has been a hallmark of her House career, and it’s an asset that can provide dividends in a Republican presidential primary where her strongest competitors -- Texas Governor Rick Perry and Romney -- are vying for a smaller pool of big donors to generate cash for their campaigns.
“It’s like having money in the bank to have a list of names of people you can go back to” because they haven’t given the maximum $2,500 to her campaign, said Michael Malbin, executive director of the Washington-based Campaign Finance Institute, a nonpartisan group that studies political giving.
Bachmann is trying to woo big donors, too. That job got harder after Perry shot to the top of public opinion polls and she was overshadowed by Romney and Perry in the Sept. 7 primary debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. Tonight, the Republican candidates will participate in a debate sponsored by Tea Party activists in Florida, and Bachmann will be under pressure to recapture some of the spotlight or risk losing momentum.
Her small donors could provide a boost later this month when the candidates are expected to announce their third quarter fundraising figures. The full reports will be made public by the Federal Election Commission in October.
It’s a tactic President Barack Obama used in 2007 to bring momentum to his campaign and keep pace with the more experienced fundraising team recruited by Hillary Clinton during the Democratic primary. Obama raised half of his primary money in amounts of $200 or less, while chief rival Clinton raised one-third from small check writers.
The winner of the Iowa Straw Poll, Bachmann is competing against Romney’s money-raising machine, which topped the primary field in the second quarter by reporting $18.3 million in donations. Three-fourths of his money came from donors giving the maximum, according to an analysis by the Campaign Finance Institute. Perry entered the race last month and hasn’t filed a disclosure report yet.
“Bachmann has really passionate supporters at the grassroots level,” said former Federal Election Commission Chairman Michael Toner, who advised Tim Pawlenty’s presidential campaign before the former Minnesota governor withdrew. “Romney’s challenges are the flip side of Bachmann’s. His challenge is gathering support among conservative activists and getting the $25 contributions.”
Bachmann is using social media, the Internet and e-mail to try to woo small contributors and more than a half-million people have signed up to follow her on the social media sites Facebook and Twitter.
She has a long list of grassroots backers from previous campaigns; she raised $7.5 million in small donations for her 2010 re-election. Overall, she took in $13.6 million for her re-election campaign last year, more than any other House candidate, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, another Washington-based research group that tracks campaign donations.
Bachmann also is advertising on conservative websites like the Drudge Report and Newsmax to build her donor base.
“That’s where you get a lot of those small contributions,” said Alice Stewart, a campaign spokeswoman. “Small contributions have been the lifeblood of Michele Bachmann’s campaign. Another benefit of having small donors is the fact that many small donors mean many votes. We just as soon have the quantity of contributions as compared with high dollars.”
While 74 percent of Romney’s money came in checks for the maximum $2,500 donation, he is also targeting smaller contributors, according to his spokeswoman, Andrea Saul. One such effort: A psychedelic anti-Obama “Magical Misery Tour” T-shirt for a $30 donation. Visitors to his campaign website were invited to make their $30 contribution a recurring one. The T-shirt campaign got 60,000 visits in six hours, Saul said.
“We are very proud of all of the support we’ve received from across the nation for Governor Romney’s message of creating jobs and growing the economy,” Saul said.
The importance of small donors will be magnified if no front runner emerges from the early caucuses and primaries, Malbin said.
“When you have a small-donor network that is part of an integral campaign strategy, it becomes the basis for organizing get-out-the vote efforts,” Malbin said. “That was the basis for Obama’s victory over Clinton, the ability to get out volunteers, especially in caucus states.”
Obama remains the leader in small donor donations, and he is rebuilding his network for the re-election campaign.
This year, Obama began his 2012 fundraising effort with an e-mail list of more than 13 million names from the 2008 campaign, and took in 53 percent of his $41.9 million in primary contributions from donors giving $200 or less, according to the Campaign Finance Institute. The figures include money transferred to his campaign from fundraisers conducted jointly with the Democratic National Committee.
Obama’s Small Donors
The $22.1 million Obama received in small donations surpassed the amount any Republican candidate raised in total during the second quarter.
While Obama listed 244 people who raised at least $50,000 through June 30, he also is developing a network of mini-bundlers, people who solicit friends and family to give to the campaign. They have set up personal fundraising pages on the campaign’s website.
Thousands of such pages contain stories of why the person supports Obama and his or her fundraising goal. Supporters can use e-mail or social media to get others to click on their pages to give as little as $1 to the president’s re-election.
“It’s making it very easy for people to communicate with friends and neighbors,” said Katie Hogan, an Obama campaign spokeswoman.
The campaign also solicits small contributions through contests such as offering a chance to attend Obama’s 50th birthday party in Chicago to anyone who recruited 50 donors or 50 supporters, or dinner with the president and Vice President Joe Biden to someone who donated at least $10.
“We measure our success not in dollars but in people,” Obama said in one fundraising e-mail, “in the number of everyday Americans who’ve chosen to give whatever they can afford because they know we’ve got more work to do.”