Hillary and Bill have made an unpleasant discovery over the past three months: Without the ability to pass out coveted goodies, like over-nights in the Lincoln Bedroom, invitations to White House coffees and state dinners, trips on Air Force One, weekends at Camp David, lucrative government contracts, top appointments, and the power to sign or veto legislation, their ability to raise money is far less than it once was.
That’s one of the key reasons why Hillary came in second in fund-raising for the first quarter.
For years, people have wondered whether the Clinton money machine was based on ideology and personal loyalty, or just the plethora of presidential perks at Bill’s disposal. The first quarter results give a resounding answer: It’s the perks, stupid.
Coming from nowhere, without any strong pre-existing donor base, Senator Barack Obama’s sensational showing in the first quarter — amassing $25 million in campaign contributions — has left the Clintons sputtering. And his astonishing bottom line is only part of his surprise upset in beating Hillary. While she narrowly edged out the new kid on the political block in the total amount raised, Obama outscored Hillary 2:1 where it really counts: the number of individual donors. This is a big win for Obama and demonstrates both the depth of support for an attractive alternative to Hillary, as well as the finely tuned organizing skills of the first term senator.
In the first three months of 2007, 100,000 people gave Obama money, while Hillary’s fund-raising base was only half as large with 50,000. That’s a big difference, especially when the distant second place went to the former first lady — who, along with her former president husband, has been cultivating fat cat Democrats and building a donor network for more than 16 years. Even with Bill — the man she calls the ‘most popular man in the world’ — working overtime to track down every last Clinton supporter with money, she (and he) could only attract half as many donors than a rookie from Illinois — so much for popularity.
And Obama’s money just keeps on coming! His campaign announced that he raised an additional $500,000 online in the 24 hours since he announced his total on Wednesday. That means that he raised almost $7.5 million to Hillary’s $4 million from online donors. And Obama has added another 4,300 new donors!
Early in the presidential race, the amount of money a campaign has raised matters as much as the number of donors who anted up. You can always go back to your donors and get more money, unless they have already maxed out. An initial $100 donor can become a $500 contributor by the end of the race. Direct mail donors can be re-solicited again and again and online donors keep on giving. So the key is to be able to go back to donors for more. With twice as many donors as Clinton, Obama will be able to raise much more money — much more than the former first lady.
Hillary won’t disclose how many of her donors have reached the maximum of $2200 for the primary, and $2200 for the general election. But, reports of her fund-raising tactics suggest that she squeezed her donors dry. In practical terms, this means that she has fewer donors to go back to for later donations.
So, what happened with Hillary? It’s not that she didn’t pay attention to raising money — she and Bill were working overtime to try and build a definite lead that would clearly establish her as the invincible frontrunner. That didn’t work.
Why doesn’t her frontrunner status and long history of raising big bucks translate into more donors and more money?
One answer may be Clinton’s solicitation fatigue. The Clintons are always knocking at the door with their hands out. Donors may be very tired of the constant phone calls from Chappaqua – for the Clinton Library, the Tsunami, Katrina, Hillary’s Senate campaign, Bill’s birthday, HILLPAC, Bill’s Global Initiative, etc. etc. When donors see the “914” area code (for Chappaqua) on their caller ID, they may understandably cringe and not answer. Soon, the donors may be asking their Public Service Commission to put Bill and Hillary on their no-call list!
But the most significant reason that the Clintons didn’t hit a home run in the first quarter may be due to the fact that they don’t have any more perks to hand out. The Clintons brought new meaning to presidential fund-raising by giving donors free reign of the White House. From Johnnie Chung to David Geffen, they handsomely rewarded their donors with an open door policy. Now, they obviously can’t do that.
And, at this rate, they may not be able to do it again in the future either.