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Friday, August 27, 2004

Huge Influx of Small Donors Neutralized by BCRA's Increased Limits

This year's presidential campaign has seen a significant increase in the number of small donors ($200 or less) who have given to the candidates, according to a recent report released by The Campaign Finance Institute.

In 2000, small donors gave $50,403,405 to presidential candidates, 23% of the total dollars given by individuals. In 2004, small donors gave $194,105,492. Many attribute the nearly fourfold increase to the campaigns' use of the internet and to the heightened public interest in this year's election. Despite these factors, the percentage of small contributions as a total of all individual contributions rose only to 33%.

What happened? Shouldn't all that money from new small donors level the playing field somewhat between them and the big donors? Hardly.

To no one's surprise, many wealthy donors took advantage of McCain-Feingold's (BCRA's) doubling of contribution limits. In 2000, big donors ($1,000 or more) accounted for 56% of money contributed to presidential candidates. In 2004, that number dropped only to 51%, in no small part because candidates took in $197,022,834 in donations of $2,000 or more.

What does it all mean? Well, despite the huge numbers of regular Americans getting involved in the political process, their voice is still muted by the voice of big money. Twenty ordinary folks who contribute $100 still have the same voice as one fatcat who contributes $2,000. That same fatcat can give $95,000 to federal candidates and committees every two years, an amount roughly equal to the median household income in the United States over the same period.

McCain-Feingold, successful in some respects, has still ended up selling most Americans short.

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