WASHINGTON (CNN) - Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, is breaking fundraising records in his bid for the White House, but some people seem to be questioning the way he is adding up his numbers.
Even though he is a fresh face in a presidential race that boasts several veteran U.S. senators, current and former governors and the former mayor of New York City, Obama is beating them all when it comes to individual donors and the amount raised so far in the battle for the White House.How many individual contributors you ask? How about 258,000. He is the only African-American candidate in the race and on the campaign trail, Obama is treated like a rock star.
"You get stories of people who come to these Obama events and say, 'I haven't much been interested in politics, here, I'll give you the money out of my handbag,'" said John Dickerson, a political journalist with the on-line publication Slate. "That gives a sense of momentum, a sense of movement."
The junior senator from Illinois, who has been in office a little more than two years, is growing his supporter base in a non-traditional way. People who buy Obama campaign hats, buttons and bumper stickers are being counted as part of that record breaking number of contributors. At least four other presidential candidates: Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona; Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colorado; Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-California; and Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio; also count such people as donors.
Unlike most of his Democratic opponents, Obama sells his campaign merchandise directly instead of outsourcing it.
But the Obama campaign notes that people who have bought campaign merchandise only account for about one percent of all of his donors.
"The reason that they're listed as donors is because if they purchase it through the campaign and it goes into the campaign coffers it would be a violation of campaign laws if we did not list that," Obama said Tuesday at an event in Washington, D.C. "So all we're doing is abiding by the law."
CNN Political Editor Mark Preston noted that there is a "whispering campaign that Obama is trying to inflate his donor numbers" which Obama flatly dismissed.
"We're so far ahead of everybody else in terms of the number of donations that we don't need to be playing with the numbers," Obama said at the same event.
And Obama may actually be on to a successful fundraising venture.
"The campaign spokesman tells me that they have raised several hundred thousand dollars through this process," Preston said. "It's a pretty novel way not only to raise money, but also to grow the campaign's small-donor list."
– CNN Deputy Political Editor Paul Steinhauser