Obama's Secret Weapon? Silicon Valley Entrepreneurs
BY Mike Hofman
Just how did Senator Barack Obama build the campaign fundraising apparatus that has fueled his bid for the White House? Actually, he didn't. A group of Silicon Valley technologists built it for him, applying the principles of social networking and the subscription model for software to American politics. So reports Joshua Green in a fascinating article in The Atlantic Monthly.
Crucially, Green reports, Obama's Web-based fundraising relied on individuals regardless of net worth making repeated donations. Because it has been so effective at aggregating funds, it freed up the candidate to skip traditional cocktail party fundraisers, which gave him an advantage in terms of time and in terms of focus that the other candidates simply did not have.
And the fact that Obama is the only candidate to have this system in place points to a key tactical blunder on the part of his main adversary for the Democratic presidential nomination, Senator Hillary Clinton. Her campaign was so confident of its ability to raise money in California and elsewhere, Green writes, that it neglected to schedule any making-the-rounds trips to Silicon Valley in the early days of the campaign in 2007.
(Green also makes the astute observation that, in the past, entrepreneurs were not highly prized by politicians because they weren't generous campaign donors, for the obvious reason that entrepreneurs, regardless of their net worth, are often short on cash.)
Anyway, at the beginning of the campaign, Hillary was not glad-handing in the Valley, and Obama was. And because the culture of the Valley is built on the idea of a young outsider disrupting the old order—indeed, the Valley re-invented that narrative for contemporary times—Obama's drawbacks as a candidate were, if anything, key selling points on Sand Hill Road. He signed up some smart CEOs, they came up with a Web strategy for him, and the campaign was well on its way to a massive fundraising haul.
The money did not in and of itself make Obama a contender. But it enhanced his credibility among party bosses, allowed him to open a slew of campaign offices, and ensured that he could stay in the game much longer than most of his opponents.
Here's the the link to Green's article, "The Amazing Money Machine."
What do you think? Is Obama a bona fide Web pioneer? And what do you make of his support among entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley, a part of the country that for many years prided itself on being politically agnostic?
Last updated: May 19, 2008
MIKE HOFMAN was previously editor of Inc.com and a deputy editor at Inc. magazine, which he joined in 1996. The site was nominated for a National Magazine Award for Digital Media in 2010, and was named the best business website by Folio Magazine. In 2006, Hofman was part of a team of writers nominated for a Webby Award for best business blog. He lives in New York City. @mikehofman