Monday, July 2, 2007

Money Talks: Obama's Record Fundraising

$32.5 million in the second quarter. It's an absolutely stunning number, especially when taken in its historical context. For your consideration: Bill Clinton's total during the same period in 2005, the previous Democratic record, was just $9.6 million.

So what do Obama's second quarter numbers tell us about the state of American politics? Well, now more than ever, candidates travelling the road to the White House must pay a steep toll, a toll that prohibitively expensive for "second-tier" candidates and, it seems now, for some "first-tier" candidates. Consider John Edwards, who with just $9 million in the second quarter seems strapped for cash next to Obama and Clinton.

It's enough to breed some serious cynicism, until we take a closer look at the numbers.

In six months, 258,000 people have donated to the Obama campaign. Thousands of those donations have been contributions of less than $50. Thousands more of those contributions have not been monetary donations at all, but instead, donations of time from folks who are testing their political voices, exercising political action, and placing their trust in a candidate for the first time in their lives.

When we speak of Obama's donors, we're not speaking about people who simply showed up to a fundraising dinner, cut a check for $2,300, and snapped a photograph with the candidate that they can hang in their corner office. Thousands of Obama's supporters have never donated to a campaign before in their lives. These are people who have finally encountered not just a candidate, but a man, and a family, who have inspired them to believe in America again, to believe that we can turn this country around. Barack Obama has inspired Americans across economic, social, and ideological lines to believe that we all have more in common than we think we have, and that a little bit of time and a little bit of hope, from a lot of people, will make an enormous difference in this nation and in this world.

Campaign finance is too often a depressing subject. It's not right that "second-tier" candidates have already been buried under the piles of money available to the "top-tier" campaigns. It's not right that candidates have to raise $32.5 million to have the establishment stand up and take notice. It's not right that 2008 is going be our first billion dollar presidential campaign.

But money talks. It's a political reality, and a dismal one at that. But what makes the Obama campaign special, and full of hope, is that the $32.5 million represents the voices of everyday Americans contributing what they can, when they can, be it $50, $5, or five hours of time at a grassroots event. Ultimately, the Obama campaign is winning the financial race because it is interested on more than simply monetary contributions. It is interested in contributions of time, ideas, and hope.

When you run a campaign like that, you discover that thousands of people have been waiting their entire lives to contribute to something bigger than themselves. That's the sort of campaign that breaks records, and makes history.