Grassroots Campaign Fundraising Hits $4 Million

Trevor Lyman, a supporter of libertarian presidential candidate Ron Paul, decided to help his preferred candidate raise money. He bought the domain, the purpose of which was to encourage people to make a small donation on that day. The campaign was ridiculously successful. This past Monday, the site raised $4 million for Ron Paul’s presidential campaign.

Interestingly enough, the site itself did not even collect the donations, but rather sent site visitors on the the official campaign site,, to make their donation.

The value of the web site was thus not in raising money, but as a virtual billboard which other sites and could blogger could link to. “There’s no officialness about it in any sense. It’s just a website that said ‘hey let’s all donate money on this day,’” Lyman said to The Politico. “And once the banners were in place and people could start spreading links, it just propagated virally. And that’s really it.”

This is interesting on several levels. First, it raises the hopes of netroots-watchers like me, who were so excited by the use of the Internet to decentralize and democratize the campaign process in 2004 under Howard Dean and have been disappointed at the lack of innovative online strategies for 2008.

Here is a positive indication that we are continuing to make progress in engaging ordinary voters in the political campaign process. The reason I have this hope is that this is an example of 3 innovations in citizen engagement in presidential campaigns:

1. A private citizen who was completely unconnected to the campaign (Trevor Lyman) had a significant impact on the campaign not because of his personal wealth and traditional power (individual elites have always been influential) but rather due to his ability to inspire and pursuade other citizens. Other countries, like South Korea, have already seen the decisive power of independent citizens to influence political campaigns. Perhaps the US will too.

2. The $4 million was raised through micro-donations rather than big $2000 checks from wealthy donors. Micro-donations are not new (Howard Dean proved their value in 2004) but they are nonetheless critical in the struggle to re-focus campaigns on the needs of citizens rather than the needs of elites. Whoever holds the purse-strings owns the candidates, and if a candidate is beholden to ordinary citizens for his financial well-being, these are the concerns that will guide that candidate’s policy.

3. This technique already has a name – “viral e-bundling” – which refers to the ability of a low-cost viral campaign to bundle small donations into a lump sum with influence. This is now an official campaign technique, so look for other candidates to start using this tactic too. That doesn’t mean that they will succeed. The key to viral marketing is that an individual only passes on the “virus” to a friend if they think it has value. You cannot buy a viral campaign, you must inspire one. The failure of a viral campaign by one of the front-runners would be a huge embarrassment, as it would indicate shallowness in their popular support.

Maybe 2008 will be an interesting campaign season after all.

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4 Responses to “Grassroots Campaign Fundraising Hits $4 Million”

  1. links for 2007-11-12 | Daily EM Says:

    […] Internet and Democracy Blog » Grassroots Campaign Fundraising Hits $4 Million Mary Joyce on how a grassroots web-site — — helped Ron Paul’s campaign raise $4 million. The key to success? The site served as “a virtual billboard which other sites and could blogger could link to”! (tags: ronpaul paul activism fund-raising 08 elections cyberactivism) […]

  2. Diane Tucker Says:

    Interesting post. At the same time: complicating the dichotomy you build between the “needs of elites” and “needs of citizens” are the behaviors of conservative Christians in the US — people who, at much greater length and with more profound consequence than Howard Dean, demonstrated the value of micro-donations. [Such microdonations enabled Pat Robertson to raise significantly more money (prenomination)) than all his rivals in the 1988 presidential campaign ($41m, compared to GHW Bush’s $34m, Dukakis’ $31m, Dole’s $28m and Jackson’s $27m). Given how important those “citizen” Christians have been (via their microdonations, their activism, etc) in contributing to a range of policies that (in the view of many) aid elites, I’d suggest that as — perhaps more — important than the microdonations (and the technologies employed to gather them) are the figures and the rhetorical work they perform (with technologies) to determine how citizens define their needs and interests.

  3. marycjoyce Says:

    By “rhetorical work” do you mean that micro-donations identify who actually has grassroots support regardless of how that candidate is popularly portrayed in the media? If so, I definitely agree.

  4. grassroots marketing Says:

    This idea could impress anyone who needs and has something to do with viral marketing.