Small Checks Drive Michele Bachmann’s Big Bucks

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — New York retiree Phyllis Hornung has never been to Minnesota and has no ties to the state — other than the steady stream of campaign donations she sends to Michele Bachmann.

Almost every other month last year, Hornung sent the conservative Republican congresswoman a check for $25, or sometimes $75.

“She captured my heart immediately,” said Hornung, a former commercial real estate broker who recalls first seeing Bachmann two years ago on television — an appearance that prompted her to make a small contribution online. “There was no question in my mind that she was a straight talker and I should support her.”

The $350 that Hornung has donated is a tiny fraction of the $13.5 million Bachmann hauled in for her 2010 race — more than any other candidate for Congress. But donors such as Hornung are the main supply line for a fundraising machine that is humming as Bachmann begins her campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.

A new Associated Press-GfK poll showed positive views of Bachmann climbing among Republicans. In May, 41 percent of Republicans held a favorable view of the Minnesota congresswoman. That percentage rose to 54 percent in the new survey. Among supporters of the tea party movement, her favorability climbed from 48 percent to 57 percent.

Bachmann isn’t the only candidate for president who makes political money rain. President Barack Obama set records four years after President George W. Bush set records, and some predict the Democratic incumbent will be the first presidential candidate to raise $1 billion.

But Bush and Obama depended more on thunderstorms of money — bundles of checks collected by big-money donors, each written for the maximum amount allowed by law. Bachmann’s accounts are instead filled with small contributions sent by devoted supporters. Many small donors meet her through television or Internet clips, and she stays connected with them through a well-honed system of phone calls, emails and letters.

Each gets a personalized “Team Bachmann” membership card. The most recent bears her picture and a motto: “Fighting for common sense and fiscal sanity in Washington.”

Of the nearly $12.9 million Bachmann raised from individuals in the last election, more than half came from people giving less than $200. While Obama was cheered for the legion of small donors who contributed to his campaign, only about a fourth of Obama’s $750 million take in 2008 came from such donors, according to a Campaign Finance Institute analysis. Bush also raised roughly a quarter of his campaign funds in 2004 from such small donors.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, seen as the early leader on the GOP side, gathered about 80 percent of his campaign cash during his 2008 presidential bid from donors who gave $1,000 or more. (Romney has yet to file a campaign report for his 2012 bid, the first of which is due July 15.)

Bachmann needs the steady stream of money so that she can keep raising it.

Cultivating a base of small givers is expensive because it requires asking more people for money and making more frequent contacts with those contributors. The campaign sifts lists of public and consumer data — examining things like age, home value, voting history, other donations and club memberships — in search of potential donors who might share Bachmann’s views.

The more it costs to raise money, the less there is to spend on actual campaign activity like travel, advertising and get-out-the-vote efforts. It’s easier to hold down costs by soliciting major donors, those who reliably give at or near the maximum in every election cycle.

In the 2010 race, Bachmann only had about 400 people who gave the $2,400 limit. Campaign reports analyzed by The Associated Press show that $5.6 million — about half of Bachmann’s overall expenses during that campaign — was plowed back into fundraising. It went to fundraising consultants, credit card processing fees, telemarketing and mail solicitations, among other costs.

But there are also advantages to Bachmann’s fundraising strategy. Fundraising consultants say that while making the first hit involves trial and error, there is a payoff when donors come through again and again. Jonathan Mantz, who was national finance director for Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton’s 2008 campaign, said the number of donors is as important to watch as a campaign’s overall take.

“If you have a bunch of max-outs, at the end of the day they can’t contribute anymore,” Mantz said. Drawing in more low-dollar givers is “almost like a subscription program, where they are able to give because ideally they have room in their budget and you can take advantage of key moments.”

Bachmann had almost $2.9 million in her congressional campaign fund through March that she’s allowed to transfer to her presidential bid. She came out of the gate last week with a barrage of fundraising pleas, saying in one, “In these first few days of my campaign it is imperative that I have the funds necessary to reach out to conservatives in every corner of the United States.”

In one letter to donors in May, she bemoans a federal deficit pegged at “a record-shattering $1.65 TRILLION!” and says she needs campaign money to combat forces trying to target her politically. Others are saturated with vivid language about values being “under assault like never before” and the nation trending toward “socialist policies.”

Thousands of the Bachmann donors are described in her campaign reports as retired. Many others say they are self-employed or own businesses. Some contacted by the AP said they’ve previously given to Texas Rep. Ron Paul, Florida Rep. Allen West and unsuccessful Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle — all of whom are, as is Bachmann, revered by the tea party.

“I can tell generally who the good people are by how much the press hates them,” said retired Louisiana electrical engineer David Kimball, who gave money to the others and just under $500 to Bachmann in 2010 in near-weekly donations that began in the summer. “My impression of her is she’s telling the truth. She’s patriotic. I don’t think there’s any guile about her.”

Hornung, the retired Bachmann donor from New York, says she’s rooting for a Bachmann presidential campaign even amid doubts about her actually winning. Those doubts, she said, aren’t enough to stop her from writing Bachmann checks.

“If need be, I’ll be a great deal more supportive than what I’ve been so far,” Hornung said. “Whatever the maximum is, she’ll get from me.”

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

  • pat

    Postitve proof that there really is one born every minute! No wonder she is so, so pro-life!

  • Michelle Barfmann speaking

    Somewhat funny I guess – idiots think small so the donations match. Business can’t stomach her and anyone who’s educated at all see her as pure white trash stupidity. But she’s a female (note-did not say woman) so she will gather some bimbette votes too. Again – just the uneducated ones who sneak a bump from the closet bottle or snort a line while watching Rocky re-runs. LMAO

  • Citizen

    It would be better if Hornung would write her checks to a charity. Perhaps a church-run soup kitchen, an animal shelter or homeless shelter, a food shelf. Why “feed” Barfmann (love that) when you can actually provide food for someone.

    • meow

      Yikes, ah, Citizen, that would take some basic CRITICAL THINKING. Clearly Hornung has been sold on the empty promises from MB’s total BS.

  • Troy

    True, because she is honest the media hates her. she a lawyer and a very intelligent women, the haters claim to be smarter then the Bachmann supporters, but really are the ignorant liberal arts majors who can’t find work, how’s that hope and change working for you Obammy fans

    • Tom

      @ Troy

      You are obviously very delusional with your above comment calling her an intelligent person!

    • So smart Troy

      Obviously you have a firm grasp on logic and critical reasoning there Troy. The press definetly hates her because she is honest. Yep, thats why. Good work detective!!

      I am a republican, and am guessing i’ve been more successful by the age of 34 than you have been or ever will be. So no liberal arts major here. And i hate her because she is self-serving beauarocrat who reguritates the same old neo-con rhetoric that is destroying this country. She is the Nancy Pelosi of the GOP…..get a clue.

    • pat

      By golly, Troy, you sure it the ol’ nail right on the head there! You betcha!

    • markH

      Bachmann obtained her law degree from a Christian fundamentalist “college” (Oral Roberts University). Bachmann also believes that some supernatural force out there created the universe in just a few days, and disputes the mountains of evidence in support of Evolutionary Theory. She is also on record many, many times as telling her constituents that she takes direction on matters of ultimate concern from some unseen, unheard person in another realm. Now, do we REALLY need another supernaturalist in our halls of power? Do we really want to celebrate ignorance in our lawmakers?Those countries that also claim to take direction from the supernatural (Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Pakistan) are not what I want for my country. Peace.

      • kidding me primate

        think the Tea Pea Potty crowd does. I always think James Jones, Charlie Manson, Adolf Hilter and the other truly annoited (in their minds) leaders…..MB is caa – caa on her party but they don’t care and so I suspect they’ll hand it back to the damn libs.
        Thanks Bachmann you worthless pos

    • meow

      @ Troy

      I just about choked when I read “Intelligent”

      Actually, this is the same person who said that America should appologize to BP for the oil spill that BP created.

      Plus, I’m a successful multimedia artist by trade and make an extremely comfortable living.

      Your comments are rather rediculous Troy. Nice try and thanks for playing.

  • James2

    The headline ought to be “Small minds drive Bachmann’s success.”

  • Bill

    “I can tell generally who the good people are by how much the press hates them,” said retired Louisiana electrical engineer David Kimball,

    That is exactly right.

    • So Sad for Bill

      You know how i know you are a moron Bill?

      It stems from Occam’s razor, which is, “a principle that generally recommends selecting the competing hypothesis that makes the fewest new assumptions, when the hypotheses are equal in other respects”

      So either, we can believe you and some stupid David Kimball, who say the press hates her because she is in actualality “good people”…….OR…….we can go with the simplest explantion: that the press and people hate her because she is not worthy of our affection, because she is a stone cold moron.

      Which one makes more sense their Bill….mmmmmm… choose the wrong answer, and THATS how i know you are a moron. Peace!!

      • Ted

        Maybe Bill is not a moron, but an imbicile. He could also be a cretin.

    • Bachmann distorts everything - want to see 3 certifified copies of her hatching

      Yeah, ya betcha

      The more they hated the better they always are.
      Hitler-Stalin-Castro-Mussolinni- aaaah shucks , were do I stop. They all great leaders and the people and press mostly hated them.
      Barfmann …. very very good. I like it.
      Crossed my GOP party line for the first time in more than 40 years when I voted for Clarke….do it again in a heartbeat too.

  • Phil Mcrackin

    I work, I pay taxes, I enjoy my life. I will be just fine no matter who is elected. People seem to think your elected officials rule their life, well they don’t at least not mine anyway.

  • Mr. M

    After she doesn’t win the election, where does all that left over money go that her campaign collects?

    • Larson in Stillwater

      buys herself a couple of real apes to lick her clean.
      the ones she has doing it now are human and small tongues. She truly stretched and in need of biggie

      • Mr. M

        As much as that makes me laugh, it’s a rude comment. I think it’s a very serious and valid question. One that might make her campaign be held accountable for their true intentions… sucking money out of conservatives.

  • John

    Someone in MN apparently voted for her, I don’t see her getting the Rep ticket, though wouldn’t it be a dream for the Obama supporters if she did?

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