Moveon.org has about two million registered members. If half of them—one million members—gave just $1000 each, this would add up to a billion dollars.
I predict that today we are witnessing the emergence of the first billion dollar American presidential campaign. It may not come this year, but it will certainly come soon. The outlines are all too clear. Now the question is, what do we do about it?
About fifteen minutes ago (at Midnight, June 30, 2003), the Howard Dean campaign closed its books on this quarter’s fundraising. His supporters have set a new record for Internet political giving. But we ain’t seen nothing yet.
Presidential campaigns are won on chump change, compared to other more scaleable economic endeavors in our society, such as Hollywood movies. With the web, scale has now come to political contributing.
To explain: This morning I was excited to see that Dean had raised on the order of $7 million this quarter, much of it from small donations given over the Internet. And then I was depressed to read in the New York Times that George W. Bush expects to raise more than $170 million for his unopposed primary campaign—and spend it all before his nomination. Most of the money is expected to be used on television ads to attack the Democrats. This amount is twice what Bush spent in 2000, and several times what any other presidential candidate in history has spent. Bush can do this legally because he is not accepting federal matching funds, and thus is not under a spending cap until officially nominated.
But here is the punch line: Consider the following scenario. Moveon.org has about two million registered members. If half of them—one million members—gave just $1000 each, this would add up to a BILLION DOLLARS. If we did this for Dean or for another progressive candidate it would certainly change the political landscape. OK, so dial me back a bit—let’s say that a million people gave just $200 each—that adds up to $200 million. More than George W. is expected to raise.
This scenario is not preposterous. Let’s cut it another way. Surveys suggest that there are at least 30 million “progressive” Americans—at just about 11% of the population. If just 3 million of those gave $100, we get $300 million dollars.
This is in line with other scaleable activities in our economy. Harry Potter did $100 million in book sales just last weekend alone. A successful Hollywood movie does $100 million in a few weeks.
The reason that political giving does not reach these sorts of totals—in a nation of over 280 million people—is not that people don’t value the presidency—but that the conventional mechanisms for political donating don’t scale. George Bush’s money is raised through small networks of wealthy individuals who tap their friends, family, and business associates. While this network is effective up to a point, it cannot compare to the scalability of a nationwide system of theaters, retail stores, or the Internet.
But now the web has changed what is possible in campaign contributing. Using the web millions of people can participate, and do so efficiently. The Dean campaign is starting to prove this, as is Moveon.org. Moreover, new forms of giving can now be explored. For example, people might pledge $5 a week to a candidate—rather than all at once. This would make contributing affordable for more people, and increase their involvement with the campaign.
A billion dollars. Gaining the presidency of the first superpower is probably worth it!