Online Fundraising Recreating Democratic Forums

As November 2008 draws near, the fundraising teams of both presidential campaigns continue to devise new methods for increasing their cash-flow. Articles like “Online GOP is playing Catch-Up,” and Obama’s “Amazing Money Machine” have been hitting headlines as the media continues to compare candidates’ ability to raise funds through digital means. Last month, the Atlantic reported that of the $55 million that Obama raised during February, $45 million of it was collected over the Internet. And the Washington Post recently revealed that the GOP is hiring “technocrats” to aid its e-campaign financing efforts.

Just as the Internet has dictated the course of presidential electoral politics – through email, social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace, and of course blogging – so too, has it affected political fundraising, giving new meaning to “campaign-finance reform.” Fundraising tools are becoming widely accessible to voters online, including: making donations by the click of a button, signing up for a subscription model, or establishing one’s own fundraising page, as Obama’s campaign has successfully done. Other examples of how the Internet has helped candidates rake in the cash? Representative Ron Paul set a GOP fundraising record through overwhelming support from the Internet community tied to his commemoration of Guy Fawkes Day; and the online gambling community helped fuel Senator Dodd’s Presidential aspirations by playing games of online poker, providing his campaign with more money in a year, than it had received since 1997. As those at iStockAnalyst recently noted, “In general, online contributions offer two things TV spots and phone banks cannot: an interactive relationship between the contributor and the candidate and an easy way to donate small amounts.”

Bottom line: It’s not only efficient, it’s easy, and anyone can do it. Web sites such as Fundable.com, OnlineFundraiser.com, and FastTrack Fundraising, are allowing citizens other than presidential candidates and their “online political operatives” to gain access to public funding. The trend of online fundraising has the potential to, as Yochai Benkler would say, “decentralize democratic discourse.” By providing an accessible alternative to the top-down hierarchy of political fundraising, web-based fundraising tools are giving more people a voice, and the resources, to participate in democratic forums.

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