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Obama Fundraising Shows Focus on New Technologies

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While superPACs are turning out to be some of the biggest moneymakers this election season, President Obama, so far, has stayed old school. He is raising funds for his traditional campaign committee, Obama for America, and a party fund that he can use.

All of those donations are regulated and limited in size by the Federal Election Commission.

In the last three months of 2011, the Obama campaign raised $68 million, compared with $24 million by Republican Mitt Romney's campaign and less than $10 million by the campaign of Republican Newt Gingrich.

The numbers come from new disclosure reports filed to the Federal Election Commission.

The president's campaign committee, Obama for America, reported it took contributions from more than half a million people in that quarter, 200,000 of them brand-new donors to his campaign.

Another important measure is how a campaign is spending its money — and that's where Obama's numbers get really interesting.

"You know, they spent a million bucks in the quarter, basically, on technology," says Clay Johnson, author of The Information Diet: A Case For Conscious Consumption. He says he's not surprised to see that the Obama campaign spent about as much on Internet ads as it did on postage — more than $2 million.

"Now, the online advertising and the postage, that's about either getting new people into the campaign or convincing people to donate. But the million dollars in a quarter on technology is about creating infrastructure," Johnson says.

The campaign spent close to $400,000 on software and Web hosting. It reports spending more than $600,000 on computer equipment — more than $43,000 at Apple stores just in a three-month period, starting last October.

Johnson says that's evidence that Obama's team is ramping up a broad digital campaign. And that would make sense, given how his campaign operated in 2008.

"It's interesting to watch what candidates experiment with, because the things that are successful are the things that are going to be big next time around," he says.

For example, four years ago, then-candidate Barack Obama announced his hotly anticipated vice presidential pick via text message.

The move was so popular, it drove people to sign up to receive campaign texts. This time around, the campaign reports it spent $65,000 on text messaging last quarter alone.

Johnson remembers playing Xbox in 2008 — a race car driving game — and passing a virtual billboard advertising for the Obama campaign.

Voters in Iowa saw a taste of that kind of digital strategy during their Jan. 3 caucus night, when the Obama campaign bought up banner ads along the online home page of Iowa's largest newspaper, the Des Moines Register.

Another clue to the Obama campaign's strategy this year is a few payments it made to a small tech company called Square, for a 1-inch-square credit card reader that works on iPhones and iPads.

The Obama campaign says after trying out Square last quarter, it's buying hundreds of them this year, vastly reducing the time, money and effort it takes to raise and process donations — and potentially turning every volunteer into a digital fundraiser.


Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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