Surfing Silicon Valley: Donating online
July 6, 1999
By Greg Lefevre
Harvesting the Web for political money -- it works well for get-rich-quick schemes; why not try it on get-me-elected schemes?
Using his modem and a credit card, Michael Colopy sends money to the Dan Quayle presidential campaign.
"I'm donating to encourage the system that I think will greatly improve both the efficiency and the fun of participating in a presidential campaign," he says.
Vicki Day, consultant to California Representative Zoe Lofgren, says political Web solicitations reach her Silicon Valley constituents where they live, on the Web.
"You don't have to catch them watching a particular program or catch them in the right mood opening their mail that day."
Colopy says online political contributions make the process more democratic, he adds, with a "small d."
"It will increase, I think, the possibility that a lot of people unaffected in their own minds by politics will peak their interest a bit and see that it is easy to participate. The more people that give 2, 3, 11, 20 dollars -- the minimum limit here is 11 -- the more democratic the process actually is."
Contributing as a form of voting
Is the Web just another means of getting money from voters? Yes. Money is the essential fuel of politics. The Web reaches people who might be turned off by politics as practiced in the other media, TV, radio and print. It also makes it very easy to give money -- should you choose to do so.
Lynn Reed is an Internet consultant to presidential candidate Bill Bradley. She found the Internet is a new way to reach out and put the touch on a new wave of contributors.
"Suddenly, we've got folks responding to these appeals in a way that they never have before, and we feel that particularly with Bill Bradley we are bringing in new people to the process."
As late as last year, Internet donations were virtually non-existent. Not now. says Reed.
"We have been very excited with the results that we found in just 2 and a half months."
Web surfers can use the forms and donate directly on a secure Web site or print out a form and mail in a check. Bradley brought in $200,000 in the first two months of his online solicitation.
Small dollars, high volume
The Aristotle Company has six of the presidential candidates online and hopes to secure the rest.
John Phillips, president of Aristotle, says "There are a lot of contributions in the 20, 50 and 100 dollar range that are being made right now."
Now a new federal ruling allows federal matching funds for contributions made on the Internet.
Accepting money via the Web has always been legal, if reported correctly. But the new ruling adds Internet money to the cash cache that can be matched by federal money. For someone like Lamar Alexander, who may find some of the traditional money sources well tapped by the front runners, the Web opens up new sources. Alexander is quoted by Associated Press calling the Federal Elections Decision, the "greatest innovation in how we conduct campaigns since the advent of television."
Summer time and giving is easy
The online form logs all the required legal information, sorts it and dumps it into the campaign's federal reporting files.
Phillips: "We help the campaign process and accept the campaign contributions securely while maintaining the privacy of the donor."
Lynn Reed of the Bradley campaign found Internet users, especially Internet shoppers, are made-to-order Internet political donors.
"Giving to political candidates on the net is really an extension of that that they are comfortable using their credit cards online. "
"Now anybody who can afford a movie ticket can afford to contribute to Dan Quayle, Al Gore, Bill Bradley, who knows who else," proclaims Colopy.
It's also much easier for the candidate. In traditional campaigns, the rule of thumb is that as much as 100 percent of someone's first contribution to a campaign is eaten up by the costs of getting it.
On the Internet, the expense rarely goes over 20 percent.
Colopy says he can react to the daily news instantly, voting with his money. "I'm sitting here, I can make a contribution based on reading the morning newspaper, based on seeing a television broadcast, based on hearing from a friend of what a candidate said. So my reaction can be translated into a contribution to adjust your support immediately."
Online political experts believe we are not far from voting in national races via the Internet.
In the meantime, we might wonder and worry that online campaigning might bring a whole new generation of spam to our e-mail inboxes.
Women up donations to political candidates
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