Political Fund-Raising on Internet

Friday, August 18th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Americans clicked their way onto the Internet during the political conventions to give donations at a pace brisk enough to surprise the infant Web fund-raising industry.

One of the Internet's leading political fund-raising companies says Web donations to its Republican and Democratic clients soared by 139 percent during the week of the GOP convention in Philadelphia.

eContributor.com said both parties are saw similar increases this week during the Democratic Party's nominating convention in Los Angeles.

``There's a spike and it is a spike on both sides,'' eContributor chief executive Trey Richardson said. ``The amount of transactions that were taking place from a grass-roots perspective were increasing dramatically, better than expected.''

Still, the Internet accounts for only a small fraction of overall donations.

eContributor said its clients have raised about a quarter-million dollars through Web sites between July 24 and Monday's start of the Democratic convention — an increase of 242 percent from late July.

The average Internet donation was $123, the company said.

Richardson said the Republican National Committee, one of the company's largest clients, saw its Web donations increase even more than the 139 percent average for its convention week.

Neither he nor the RNC would provide dollar figures.

The Democratic Party fund-raising arm for Senate candidates, a eContributor customer, said fund-raising on its Web site soared 143 percent during this week's Democratic convention.

The overall totals still pales in comparison to what a political party can haul in with a single fund-raiser. Democrats collected $5 million at a glitzy Hollywood gala Thursday with Vice President Al Gore.

But supporters see the convention performance as proof the Internet is an emerging tool that could one day replace much of direct mail fund raising. Part of the reason: it costs only 8 cents for every dollar raised on the Internet, compared to 30 cents to 50 cents by traditional mail.

And nearly all the donations are small and can used directly to support candidates, unlike the six-figure soft money donations from corporations that the parties collect.

The Libertarian Party said its Web fund raising jumped 12-fold — from an average of $5,000 a month to $60,000 — in the weeks after its nominating convention in July.

``When we send out an emergency appeal via e-mail we generally generate a lot of money very quickly because Libertarians tend to be Internet savvy. That's their home,'' party spokesman George Getz said.

Richardson said the Internet encourages impulse donations from people who'll give their credit card before checking their checkbook.

``When you're seven inches away from all the information you need about a cause, it is an emotional decision to make a contribution. It is not an economic decision. It is impulse,'' he said.

John McCain showed earlier this year that a candidate who captures the public fancy can quickly cash in on the Internet. When his campaign against George W. Bush temporarily caught fire, McCain raised $4 million over the Internet in one month.

eContributor said the average donor was about 45 years old, far less than the 60-year-old mark that is typically seen in nonprofit fund raising.

Richardson said he believed the spike occurred because conventions prompt more people to begin paying more attention to the election.

``What we're seeing is a sort of a decentralization of the Democratic process,'' he said. ``People are actually on their own initiative on the Internet, kind of creating their own path.''

Richardson said Web fund-raising is growing steadily as Americans become more comfortable with using credit cards for Web purchases.

In 1996, just a handful of donations were rounded up on the Web. In 1998, he said, the total grew to about 2 percent of all political donations. He projects that in the 2000 election between 5 percent and 10 percent of all donations will come via the Web.