Innovation & Design

Obama: $1 Million in a Minute


The latest salvo in the Presidential hopeful's Web campaign is a site designed to process a million dollars in 60 seconds

As the Democratic Presidential hopefuls approach Pennsylvania's Apr. 22 vote, Senator Barack Obama's (D-Ill.) campaign, trailing in statewide polls, is set to get a shot in the arm. Later this week, a small band of independent Obama supporters plans to launch another new fund-raising Web site, AnObamaMinute.com, with the goal of raising $1 million dollars in one minute.

Last week the Obama camp announced it had raised $40 million in March alone, nearly twice the amount raised by Senator Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) during the same period. In all, he has raised some $234 million. Through February, Clinton's campaign had raised $156 million.

AnObamaMinute.com calls for pledgers (who can pre-register) to register a donation within 60 seconds, at 1pm on Apr. 21. Could the site be interpreted as just another stunt in an environment where $1 million isn't what it used to be? "There is certainly an element of theater," admits one member of Obama's national finance committee who's familiar with the project (the campaign is participating to make sure all contributions meet federal giving requirements). But, it is also another ambitious fund-raising effort in a political season marked by campaigns that have aggressively pushed the boundaries of raising money, both off and online.

Grassroots Money-Making

The site also plays to Obama's strengths, the success he has had with grassroots organizations, and an online strategy that stretches far, wide, and deep (BusinessWeek.com, 3/5/08). This year, all of the candidates have tried to perfect their nascent Internet playbooks, embracing cutting-edge Web tools, including blogs and social networks, in an attempt to foster vibrant, engaged online communities. Manhattan-based photographer Scott Cohen is the ardent Obama fan who conceived of the project and commissioned Clever Design to create the site.

Obama has successfully tapped into a large community that's prepared to give a little. Donors giving $200 or less account for nearly 40% of donations to his campaign, according to campaign finance Web site OpenSecrets.org. By comparison, such small donations account for just 23% of Clinton's contributions and 24% of funds received by the Republican hopeful, Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.).

Connecting to the Right Voters?

Analysts say the site further underscores the engagement and enthusiasm that has buoyed Obama's campaign. "Obama is already the greatest fund-raising success in American history," says Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. "This is another wrinkle, another innovation that confirms the Internet's potential."

"In some ways, the Internet connects Obama supporters better," adds Sabato. "Clinton and McCain supporters are generally older, and this kind of high-speed fund-raising may not exactly be the way they think."

The irony, of course, is that Pennsylvania primary voters tend to be older, comprising exactly the demographic that might not be attuned to such online events. His war chest well-funded, Obama's biggest hurdle is to convince more white, working, and lower- and middle-class voters to back him.

Vella is a writer for BusinessWeek.com in New York.

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