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Michele Bachmann

David Scrivner, Associated Press

Bachmann's campaign relies on repeat donors

  • Article by: JEREMY HERB
  • Star Tribune
  • October 23, 2011 - 9:51 PM

WASHINGTON - Cindy Boyd has dealt Michele Bachmann fundraising blackjack.

The Pagosa Springs, Colo., resident donated to Bachmann 21 times as the Minnesota Republican was gearing up to run for president this spring, then gave again two more times last month. Each contribution was for $50 or less, federal election records show.

"I pray about everything, and God showed me that I needed to give her some money to help her," Boyd said.

Boyd, 63, is one of more than 275 listed donors who have given to Bachmann at least five times this year. The full roster of repeat donors is likely thousands larger, as Bachmann's itemized contributions show just 5,400 donors while the campaign says it has 70,000. Those who give less than $200 don't have to be itemized in Federal Election Commission reports.

Donors like Boyd are key to Bachmann's fundraising strategy. As Bachmann has worked to keep donations flowing in an expensive primary, she's relied on repeat donors more than any other GOP presidential candidate except Ron Paul, who collected $8 million this quarter.

Bachmann has relied on the frequent givers out of necessity. She lacks the big-money donors who max out with $5,000 contributions and are more attracted to top GOP money-raisers Mitt Romney and Rick Perry.

Bachmann raised $277,000 of her $2.7 million itemized contributions from donors giving five times or more, a Star Tribune analysis of campaign finance data shows.

"If you can build up a list and do it successfully as Congresswoman Bachmann did, it pays huge dividends, especially at the most critical points of campaigns -- the final weeks and months," said Cullen Sheehan, who managed the campaigns of former U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman and 2010 GOP gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer.

The frequent donors are spurred on by an aggressive fundraising effort from Bachmann that combines e-mail, phone and direct-mail pitches.

The money doesn't come cheap.

Bachmann spent at least $2.5 million on fundraising efforts, voter lists and online advertising during the past three months when her campaign burned through $6 million and raised only $4.1 million, federal election records show.

Those high costs make finding donors willing to give and re-give all the more important.

"If you get somebody hooked and you get them in the door," Sheehan said, "it becomes a cheaper way to do it because you're paying for a postage stamp or just sending an e-mail rather than having to fly down and do an event."

'Vote with my dollars'

Bachmann found a loyal donor in Boyd, who said the Minnesota Republican is an honest person who can clean up the mess in Washington.

"I talked to her personally, and she said she would do all she could to make sure that we kept our Social Security," said Boyd, who is a widow on a fixed income.

Seventeen-time Bachmann donor Edward Anderson, a 63-year-old from Eagle River, Alaska, said he wants his money to talk for him.

"I don't kid myself that I'm going to have a major influence on these elections, but I can vote with my dollars and what I've budgeted to give," said Anderson.

The best fundraising targets are the ones who have already given, said Kathryn Pearson, a University of Minnesota political science professor.

"These are people who have been motivated enough to get on her e-mail list somehow," she said.

Bachmann's campaign did not respond to requests for comment.

'Urgent' appeals

Both Boyd and Anderson keep up with the Bachmann campaign by e-mail, an element of campaign fundraising that is increasingly supplanting the more traditional requests by snail mail and phone.

Bachmann's campaign has sent out at least 60 e-mails to supporters since she declared her White House bid in June. They use language like "urgent request," "immediate support" and a "critical financial deadline" to encourage support.

Five times this year, the campaign has e-mailed that it needs donors' support "more than ever."

Some e-mails engage supporters by asking them to take surveys or petitions, but almost every e-mail has a "Donate Today" button at the bottom.

David Schultz, a Hamline University professor who teaches election law, compared the e-mail fundraising appeals to the efforts of non-profits, which often issue warnings that a crisis is around the corner.

"In many situations, 'crying wolf' works," Schultz said. "If you haven't given much money to start with, you've got probably some kind of emotional connection to the candidate or cause [and] with the right kind of letter there's a strong likelihood you're going to give again."

Don Covert, who has given to Bachmann 19 times this year, said he's motivated to donate because of "the screwed-up mess we're in."

"We need to try to support those who attempt to correct it," said Colvert, who lives in Newbury Park, Calif.

Covert, 76, said that while he supports Bachmann, she's not the only conservative in the race he likes. And if she doesn't rise up in the polls, he isn't inclined to keep giving.

"If she's going to be at 3 percent," he said, "it's useless."

Jeremy Herb • 202-408-2723 Twitter: @StribHerb

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