Pack of Gum, PAC of Candidate

WaPo on frequent political impulse spenders

What “phenomenon” will the Washington Post’s T.W. Farnam find next within the rows and columns of politicians’ campaign finance reports?

Last month, after an analysis of FEC data, Farnam and Dan Eggen introduced readers to the term “money blurt,” or when “an up-and-coming politician blurts out something incendiary, provocative or otherwise controversial” which then “bounces around the blogs and talk shows” and “becomes a sensation” off of which the politician can then raise “buckets of cash.”

Wrote Farnam and Eggen:

The phenomenon marks another phase in the quest for money in politics, fueled by the eternal hum of the Internet, social media and 24-hour cable news.

Having further sifted through campaign disclosure reports, yesterday Farnam (sans Eggen) presented to readers people who, he reported, are addicted to handing their hard-earned cash to politicians.

Wrote Farnam:

They memorize their credit card numbers and press the “donate” button—sometimes several times a day—with an urge and a passion akin to an addict’s.

This growing and seldom-noticed class of political donors—confirmed in recent campaign disclosure reports from presidential candidates—includes thousands of working-class Americans who give in small amounts repeatedly, in some cases compulsively. They defy the common image that the most committed supporters are deep-pocketed high rollers who write checks for $2,500, the maximum, or the bundlers who get rewarded with access and ambassadorships.

And, the “phenomenon” part (again, the Internets and social media are to blame):

The phenomenon is driven by the ease of donating online and the prevalence of e-mail, social networks, blogs and smartphones, which together create the political equivalent of the candy rack beside the cash register.

You know, impulse spending. Pack of gum. PAC of candidate.

How many people out there actually have these itchy “contribute now” button fingers? Farnam found in disclosure filings “more than 1,300 people who gave five or more times to presidential candidates in the second quarter,” though, he added, “there probably are thousands more who have not reached the $200 threshold that requires candidates to report the donations.” He also located seven people who “gave more than 30 times in the quarter.” Yes.

What compels them? Of the seven thus compelled people quoted by Farnam, one, who has donated to the Obama campaign 26 times since April, often $5 at a time, called it “almost addicting to think that you’re influencing government.” (Aw.) Two people mentioned news reports as triggers for repeated donations to candidates Bachmann and Obama, respectively. (Money blurts?) A “kinda broke” person, speaking anonymously, copped to “just going kinda nuts” after “draining” her bank account giving 38 times this year to Obama. Someone else (a psych professor!) spoke of the “good feeling” he gets from surrendering money online to the Obama campaign.

It’s critical that reporters follow the money, pore over this FEC data, and bring their findings to readers. And it’s laudable that the Post has gone beyond the usual Important Things to Look For in Disclosure Reports (what people/industries have given big, again). But, some sort of “campaign donor’s high?” This, for my money, replaces “runner’s high” as Most Baffling Supposed Method of Mood Elevation. Euphoria! I may be nearly broke, but I’ve just funded another 1/100,000th of Candidate X’s next attack ad!

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR. Tags: , , ,