Blogging for Dollars
Forget about fat cats.
Candidates like Ben Chandler, a Democrat competing in Kentucky’s special election to replace Rep. turned Gov. Ernie Fletcher (R), are tapping into a new breed of political animal with potentially deep pockets — the Web log reader.
“We’re raising [considerable] money off the blogs,” said Chandler spokesman Jason Sauer. “It’s been really successful. Really beyond anything we’ve expected.”
With an investment of only $2,000, and in less than two weeks, the campaign has raked in between $45,000 and $50,000 in contributions from blog readers, and that number is growing every day, said Chandler campaign manager Mark Nickolas.
Chandler — a former state auditor and former state attorney general — is facing off against GOP state Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr in the Feb. 17 special election for the Lexington-area House seat. But while Kerr has outraised Chandler by several hundred thousand dollars — as of late last week, Kerr had raised about $1.2 million and Chandler was estimating his fundraising total at about $650,000 — Chandler’s campaign says its fundraising pace is picking up and at least part of the surge has come from the Web.
“It has been phenomenal,” Nickolas said. “I get an e-mail every time there’s a contribution — and we know from the e-mail the source is a blog when they come through that avenue. Since the morning of Jan. 29, the FEC [filing] cut-off, I’ve put all those e-mails in a separate file. So far there are 711.”
Short for Web log, a blog is an easy-to-use, interactive electronic journal featuring news and information on any number of topics. But as political candidates are now discovering, the Web-based communities are also fertile ground for fundraising.
Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean has paved the way, raising millions in campaign cash from those who’ve visited his “Blog for America” site — but Chandler has followed a slightly different model.
Instead of creating his own blog, Chandler is drawing potential donors to his campaign Web site by running advertisements on 11 other popular, politically oriented blogs such as Calpundit, Daily Kos and Instapundit.
“Attention Democrats,” Chandler’s ad on Calpundit declares. “No Democrat has won a Republican-held congressional seat in a special election since 1991. Help make history. Right now Ben Chandler holds a 10-point lead, but Hastert and Cheney are raising money for the NRCC to continue their attack ads. Help send a message that Democrats CAN win in the South.”
Interested users are then urged to click on a link to www.chandlerforcongress.org/blog ads.html, where with yet another click of the mouse they can make a direct contribution to his campaign.
In order to track how well the blogosphere traffic is translating into direct campaign contributions, Chandler’s Web site encourages donors to tack a few more cents onto their contribution so campaign operatives can learn from which readers the cash is flowing.
Calpundit readers, for instance, are asked to add 15 cents to their contribution, while Daily Kos readers are asked to tack a penny onto their donation. If donors come to Chandler’s Web site by way of Instapundit, then they are asked to add three cents to their contribution.
Nickolas said the contributions from blog readers are “averaging in the $40 to $50 range.” The vast number of contributions are between $20 and $25, but every so often a $1,000 or $2,000 contribution will pop up to “boost the average.”
While Nickolas was initially hoping simply to make back the campaign’s $2,000 investment, the gamble has brought in more than 20 times that amount.
Chandler’s experience seems to reinforce conclusions made by the Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet, which in a recent report stated that the “great promise of online fundraising lies in its low transaction costs,” enabling political fundraisers to “look to average people for funding.”
Indeed, as Chandler’s blog choices demonstrate, while the price of running a campaign ad on a blog varies greatly from one site to another, doing so is uncontestably cost-effective.
“You can get the premier spot for a lot of these blogs for just $400,” remarked Nickolas, who consulted with Blogads’ Henry Copeland for advice on where to place his ads.
Daily Kos, which has booked Chandler’s ad through Feb. 17, charges $400 for a week of advertising, $800 for two weeks, $1,200 for a month and so on.
On the cheaper end, at EdCone.com, a blog run by a business and technology journalist with the same name, an individual can run an ad at the bargain basement price of $15 for one week, $25 for two weeks and $35 for an entire month.
According to the Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet study, the “online political citizens” are “dramatically more likely than the general public to donate money to candidates,” and by the end of 2003, approximately 46 percent of that universe had already donated to a candidate or political organization in the past two to three months. By way of comparison, only 10 percent of the general population has donated to a candidate or political party during the same time period.
The study also found that Democrats tend to be more comfortable giving online, with nearly half of all Democrats — 49 percent — saying they donated online, compared to just 11 percent of Republican donors.
“The thing about this community is they are educated. They pay attention to politics. They care and they tend to have a little bit more disposable income,” Nickolas observed. “If you can appeal to them, they are more than happy to throw $20, $50 or $100 at you.”
Other studies bear similar good news for reaching out to voters online. Results of a survey released last fall by the Online Publishers Association and the University of Connecticut’s Center for Survey Research and Analysis found that more than two-thirds of voters are likely to go online to find out information about a candidate.
Can Chandler’s success during this special election translate into a winning fundraising formula for other campaigns — particularly in a busy campaign season in which dozens upon dozens of candidates are competing for attention?
“There’s no doubt about it,” Nickolas said, though he conceded: “We’ve been blessed by the fact that we’re the only race out there.” He said the campaign’s finance director has been inundated with calls from other Democrats in the fundraising arena wanting to know if they can do this in their campaign.
Nickolas is sure of one thing, however: “We’ve probably raised the real estate prices on these blogs.”