Harrison Hart

The 2007 Presidential fundraising season has begun with alarming success, putting the 2008 Presidential election on pace to be the first billion-dollar election in political history. Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton raised a party-record $26 million in the first quarter, shattering Al Gore’s previous 1999 first quarter record of $8.9 million. Sen. Barack Obama is just behind Clinton with $23.5 million, all of which is designated for the primary election, besting Clinton’s $20 million set aside for the primary. Even John Edwards, who is behind in the polls, has reported a record-breaking total of $14 million. As opposed to the Democrats whose earnings reflect the polls perfectly, things are a bit backwards on the Republican side. The results of first quarter fundraising are quite contradictory to the poll results. In an astonishing feat, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, ranked third in the polls, leads with $23 million, a figure higher than many analysts had predicted. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, the leader in the polls, trails substantially with $15 million. Sen. John McCain, second in the polls, follows with $12.5 million, but still has a higher budget than George W. Bush’s record-breaking $7.6 million budget in 1999. The extreme increase in revenue from previous years has been caused by three things: innovative fundraising tactics, the lack of an incumbent candidate and the competitive nature of political fundraising. In the weeks preceding the March 31 first quarter deadline, newspapers and television networks reported that the candidates did not expect to meet their fundraising goals. Clinton’s campaign chairman reportedly told one of the Senator’s biggest supporters at a fundraiser that Obama was expected to out-raise Clinton in the first quarter. Around the same time, an advisor to Obama said in an interview that Obama was behind the others in fundraising. Advisors to Giuliani and Romney told a forum at Harvard that Sen. McCain would likely raise more money, while McCain himself said that his campaign was going to take a beating in the first quarter as a result of a late start on fundraising. Almost all of the candidates’ campaigns revealed in their own somewhat discreet way that they did not anticipate meeting their fundraising goals. Both the contrasting statements by nearly all of the candidates and the success of the first quarter fundraising show that the candidates’ declarations, with the exception of McCain’s, were carefully propagated misstatements in the same way that stocks decline when their earnings fail to meet projections, campaigns lose momentum when their receipts fail to meet their estimates. Thus, with the first quarter ending March 31st, campaigns attempted to lower expectations to both ensure that their expectations are met and to amplify their apparent need for money. Though the “expectations game” has been used in the past, never has it been used so widely among candidates from both parties. Previously, the idea seemed novel; now it is practically necessary. The “expectations game” is not the only example of innovation in campaign strategy this election. More and more, the internet is being used for fundraising, both directly and indirectly. When commentator Ann Coulter controversially used the word “faggot” to describe Democratic hopeful John Edwards, his campaign capitalized on the incident, using it as a rallying point in a publicized campaign for “Coulter Cash” on his Web site to combat “inflaming prejudice.” Sen. Clinton announced her candidacy in a video on her Web site in an attempt to attract a new audience. As a result, her fundraising success came from a more diverse group of donors, not just from the usual Clinton constituents in New York, as, according to her campaign, “tens of thousands” of her 50,000 donors were new donors from all fifty states. Another major factor in the success of first quarter fundraising is that 2008 will mark the first election in 80 years without an incumbent executive office holder. As demonstrated by President Bush’s lack of fundraising in the first quarter of 2003, incumbent candidates have little time to fundraise and do not need the financial support this early in the game as much as the ones outside of the White House do. Thus, it only makes sense that a significantly greater amount of fundraising was to be done this quarter. The final component causing the increase in fundraising is the immediately competitive nature of political fundraising. Though obvious, it only makes sense that with each election cycle, the candidates will want to bring their game to the next level and that, as each opportunity comes, candidates will want to raise a maximum amount of money. That being said, it is possible to raise too much money in the first quarter, as John Edwards did in 2003. Edwards raked in millions from fellow trial lawyers for the first quarter ’03, leading the Democratic pack with $7.4 million, but failed to maintain momentum, as the number of high dollar donations tends to drop greatly after the first quarter. Edwards consequently lost his bid for President to John Kerry, who selected him as his running mate. Unfazed by Edwards’s fatal mistake, many of the candidates brought their best for this season. Hillary Clinton has the advantage of her husband, a recognizable figure who happens to be a good fundraiser. Former President Bill Clinton reportedly raised $2 million for his wife in one week alone. Other perks are his established donor networks and the millions left over from the Senate warchest compiled from his six years of doing six-figure speeches overseas. Nevertheless, at this point, it’s still anyone’s election, especially when a candidate third in the polls with 8% of the vote out-raises the frontrunner by nearly $10 million.