Small Is Beautiful … Or Is It?

In the world of campaign finance, what does all that money mean?The toughest part about reporting on campaign finance is finding a unique but meaningful angle. That is to say, trying to report something interesting.

It’s a little like making spaghetti. You throw it against the wall, see if it sticks.

For instance, Republican and Democratic presidential candidates all raised about $1.2 million in Colorado in the funding quarter between July 1 and September 30, 2007. They raised $550 an hour, 24/7, for 92 days. Nine dollars a minute. Is that interesting? Meaningful?

I didn’t think so, either, but I had to try. I mean, you never know. Americans are by reputation very interested in money. So how to explain the reaction to the vast sums accumulated by their political favorites? The silence is deafening.

Barack Obama’s campaign made a stab at the spaghetti thing this past quarter by bragging not about how much money they raised, but how little. Sort of. The campaign sent out a news release announcing that they raised $302,097 (which is a lot) in Colorado from 3,151 donors (which is also a lot) meaning that their average contribution was $96 per donor (which is a little).

So, the implication is that Obama is the Candidate of Everywoman, the Champion of the People, and so on. Very nice.

The problem with this kind of claim is that it’s impossible to check. The only source of campaign finance information is the Federal Election Commission quarterly reports, in which the candidates are not required to list donations smaller than $200 (unless the individual’s total giving is more than … oh, never mind. I know that spaghetti won’t stick).

Now I have no reason to doubt the Obama figures. But how do they compare with the other candidates? Can’t say. I called every other national campaign office and asked them for their contribution totals that included their under-$200 donations along with the total number of donors. The issue generated so much enthusiasm that only one of them bothered to call me back. This is a lonely job sometimes.

Anyway, the one that did call back was Hillary Clinton’s campaign. The campaign spokesman said he didn’t have those totals, and it would be too much trouble to compile them. But he did say, “We picked up as many new contributors this quarter as the Obama campaign did.”

Which brings us to yet another unconfirmable campaign contribution calculus. Both got roughly the same amount of new contributors, right? But  maybe Hillary’s new contributors were more enthusiastic about her than Barack’s were about him, so they ponied up more money per person, which brought the average up, but which would mean that Hillary is really the Candidate of Everyman and Crusader for the People. Right? You follow me?

So … Interesting? Meaningful?

We report, you decide.

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