Our own Nancy Watzman bursts the bubble of small-donor hype that's grown around this presidential election cycle. Read her entry at The Huffington Post, part of an ongoing campaign analysis series called "Off the Bus," to learn why the rise of the small donor is dwarfed beside ongoing big donor dominance.
Despite statistics that would seem to indicate a groundswell of small donor (defined as contributions of $200 and below) participation in the '08 race so far, the influence of traditional big money, particularly in the first quarters of fundraising, is still immense:
It's important to remember that early money is big money. When they start up their campaigns, while working to establish their competitiveness, presidential candidates concentrate on big donors. It was only later in the 2004 campaign, once Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) and President George W. Bush were safely established as contenders, that they started raising more money from small donors.
In the first six months of 2007, presidential candidates raised nearly three quarters of their campaign cash from contributions of $1,000 or more, according to the Campaign Finance Institute (CFI); just 17 percent came from donors of $200 or less. While the percentage of individual contributions from small donors is up slightly in 2007 over 2003, it was higher more than ten years ago, in 1995.
Real small donor empowerment would come from a full public financing program, as outlined in the Fair Elections Now Act proposed in the Senate.