Pop quiz: Who is the first presidential candidate ever to be interviewed by a college student in his dorm room, with the video posted on YouTube?
The answer is Republican longshot Ron Paul, who is waging one of the most dynamic but least-managed e-campaigns in the 2008 race.
The Texas Congressman's e-fundraising efforts are as unconventional as his use of media. Unlike other presidential wannabes, who rely on e-mail blasts to would-be supporters, Paul has been building his war chest by allowing his backers to drive much of the campaign themselves.
The Paul campaign has taken a bottom-up, community-oriented approach to online fundraising "so that as donations come in, the information about who's donating [and how much has been raised] is made available to everybody" on the campaign's home page, says Andrew Rasiej, co-founder of TechPresident.com, a New York-based group blog that covers how the 2008 presidential candidates are using the Web and how content generated by voters is affecting the campaign.
But Paul's campaign has taken a highly decentralized, bottom-up approach that's aimed at building a community of support while saving the organization money on IT overhead.
"Our strategy is shaped by the need to be frugal with money," says Justine Lam, Rep. Paul's e-campaign director in Arlington, Va. When Lam first began crafting Paul's e-strategy in March 2007, the campaign had a total of just $500,000 to work with. "We knew we couldn't run the same kind of campaign that [Mitt] Romney or [John] McCain could with the money they had," says Lam, a newbie to the political battlefields and the second person to join Paul's campaign staff. So thrift was the watchword when it came to campaigning online. For example, instead of hosting Ron Paul videos on his campaign Web site and chewing up valuable network bandwidth, Lam has uploaded his speeches and other video content onto YouTube.
Presidential campaign regulations have also played a significant role in shaping the Ron Paul online fundraising juggernaut. The Federal Election Commission has strict regulations prohibiting campaign organizers from giving instructions to supporters on what they should do to help the campaign. As a result, Lam and other members of the campaign team settled on a strategy of suggesting to devotees that they effectively develop their own independent campaign strategies in support of Paul.
The strategy "ricocheted through the Web and has allowed people to take ownership of the campaign instead of the campaign telling them what to do," says Lam, who previously managed webcast lectures for the Institute for Humane Studies at George Mason University in Arlington, Va.
The community-driven online fundraising strategy has worked brilliantly and has distanced the Paul e-campaign from the rest, say Rasiej and other pundits. "Ron Paul is probably the best example" of a presidential candidate who's made the most effective use of grass-roots e-mail and blogging, says Karen Jagoda, president of the E-Voter Institute in La Jolla, Calif.
The strategy appears to be working, at least from the standpoint of online attention. According to Hitwise Pty., an online measurement service based in New York, Paul attracted nearly 38% of Web traffic among all main candidates in the third week of December, trailed by former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, with over 16%. Obama came in third with just under 11%.
Although candidates such as Clinton have raised far more than Paul overall (Clinton's most recent FEC filing, on Nov. 21, shows that she has netted more than $45 million), Paul's community fundraising approach generated more than $19.5 million for the fourth quarter of 2007, easily outpacing all of the other candidates in terms of online fundraising, says Rasiej.
The watershed moment for Paul's online fundraising efforts was the "Ron Paul Money Bomb" of Nov. 5, when the campaign set a one-day record for contributions. "We've never seen anything like it," says Lam. "We raised $4.2 million that day under a completely supporter-driven 'money bomb.' No one has ever done that."
"We've never seen anything like it," says Lam. "We raised $4.2 million that day under a completely supporter-driven money bomb. No one has ever done that," she says.
Then on Dec 16, Paul upped the ante, raising an astounding $6 million.
The most that former Vermont governor Howard Dean amassed in a single day of online contributions during his 2004 presidential run was $500,000, Lam says.
Dean's campaign was also very much community-fed and Internet-driven. But back then, Dean's campaign organizers held frequent Meetup.com telephone conferences with supporters, which included weekly to-do lists for backers, says Lam.
Not Paul's people. "We might have a webconference once in a while to tell supporters what we're doing in the campaign [headquarters], but we don't tell them what to do," says Lam.
One of the truisms in Internet politics is that it's easier for "edge" candidates like Paul to catch fire online with would-be voters than it is for more mainstream politicians such as former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, says John Palfrey, executive director of the The Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School. That's because campaigns with smaller budgets and smaller support bases "are more willing to take the risk of using the Internet in experimental ways," says Palfrey.
"Ron Paul is running a very online-focused campaign," says Palfrey, "and he's becoming [more] relevant as a result."
Monday, January 07, 2008
The Secret Of Ron Paul's Success
Here is the secret of Ron Paul's success in organizing his campaign. He hasn't. He has left it up to his supporters to do it for him. It is a truly libertarian campaign.