July 18th, 2007
09:10 AM ET
9 years ago

Obama breaking records, selling merchandise

Watch CNN’s Tom Foreman take a look at how Obama is making money selling campaign swag.

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

Filed under: Candidate Barack Obama
soundoff (31 Responses)
  1. JC, Baltimore, Maryland

    for what it's worth, i donated before he sold merchandise. then donated again when there was a lot of flak about how he was a just an inexperience flash in the pan. i also cajoled friends and family to do likewise–and I never do that kind of thing. then when bumper stickers became available on line i bought one and rounded up my purchase with a donation to the campaign (about $15 additional dollars). then i got an email a week or two later and donated again right before the deadline another $25. so, assuming that he has other supporters like me, who want to see him win but don't have a lot of money and are not plugged into the democratic fundraising circuit, i do not think is a wild supposition to say that while yes his donors are buying merchandise, they are also making straight-up donations, and the purchase of merchandise is not just about giving financial support it is also about broadcasting my support for his candidacy–sort of my own testimonial that i agree with a lot of what he is saying. his is the first national campaign i have bought a bumper sticker and sign for. i am 34 years old. trust me obama is not some fad, he is the first politician in my lifetime who has truly inspired me. and i suspect i am not alone.

    July 17, 2007 08:05 pm at 8:05 pm |
  2. Deborah, Conway, AR

    The real story is where this "whispering campaign" is coming from and why some journalists are willing to play along when it's obvious the Obama campaign did nothing wrong.

    I bet an Obama sticker that the Clinton campaign had a hand in this. And I'd bet an Obama shirt that the media won't investigate it.

    July 17, 2007 08:12 pm at 8:12 pm |
  3. Ann Memphis, TN

    CNN didn't the merchandise make up only 1% of Obama's donations. That is a minute amount of 32 million dollars. Just keeping them honest!!!

    July 17, 2007 08:31 pm at 8:31 pm |
  4. Erik, New York

    To: CNN

    With all due respect...Dude what's you issue with Obama?! So what if he raises money through merchandise. It's great that he makes money off of
    t-shirts rather than owing some lobbyist or special interest group. This should be a good thing yet your so-called reporting is trying to turn it into a negative. Why is it that CNN does not report on all of the lobbyist and special interest groups that other presidential candidates take money from? That is real news! It seems you guys really hate Obama.

    July 17, 2007 08:36 pm at 8:36 pm |
  5. Keith F., Springfield, Virginia

    Obama is a fresh new spirit, thus the excitement. His "experience" doesn't bother me. He will surround himself with "experts," just like the other presidents did.

    July 17, 2007 08:40 pm at 8:40 pm |
  6. Manou, Tulsa, OK

    Barack is changing the face of the political landscape in this country. Never in the history of our country has there been such outpouring of support at the grassroot level. I'm glad to be a part of what Barack envision for this country of ours.

    July 17, 2007 09:09 pm at 9:09 pm |
  7. Walta, Knoxville, TN

    There is nothing inherently wrong with what Obama is doing is there? I think the media is doing everything to damp the momentum that Barack is building. He represents a break from the past–the Clinton dynasty. I hope people vote for the future and not the past (billary). Do we really want two decades of bush, clinton? are there no wise leaders in this country other than those two families. Give me a break. I will vote for a future.

    July 17, 2007 09:17 pm at 9:17 pm |
  8. Lou, Mississippi

    The Clinton News Network strikes again!

    I hope they are paying you alot from Bill Clinton's 40 million. This is ridiculous, do you people not know that God is watching you? Do you even care? This man is changing the way we think about politics, the way we should look at each other. Why aren't you doing a story on all the Republicans that are supporting this man? Why aren't you doing a story on President Reagan supporters who see so much of him in this man? I don't get it. God is going to get you people, I pray for your souls.

    July 17, 2007 10:40 pm at 10:40 pm |
  9. Christine, Sacramento, CA

    I have purchased Obama shirts, buttons, and stickers (Made in the USA!) and made outright (although small – $15, $25) contributions to the Obama '08 campaign. Why would I do any of this when I have never been involved in politics before? Because I want change and I think Barack Obama is the true choice for change. I am 37 and I was a Republican since registering to vote at 18, but I recently switched my political affiliation to Democrat. How wonderful that the Obama campaign is doing their best to account for every contribution, in whatever form.

    July 17, 2007 11:04 pm at 11:04 pm |
  10. Kt, Marietta, GA

    I am going to go buy Tshirts for everyone in my family right now. Barack the Vote!

    July 17, 2007 11:59 pm at 11:59 pm |
  11. cliff jones

    You are correct. There is nothing wrong except the appearances that he has all of these donors. It has been a bragging point of his campaign for months. He's trying to do it with smoke and mirrors. That won't last. The press is giving him a free ride.

    July 18, 2007 12:24 am at 12:24 am |
  12. Brad, Columbia, SC

    CNN says:

    "...but some people seem to be questioning the way he is adding up his numbers."

    Pardon me, but lots of people question lots of things. It's not news everytime someone is skeptical about something. If what Obama is doing is entirely legit, which this article seems to eventually concede, then CNN is unfairly misleading their readers in this opening paragraph.

    Come on guys, be journalists, not gossip spreaders.

    July 18, 2007 12:38 am at 12:38 am |
  13. DJ, Los Angeles

    Obama just gets it. The other candidates are just jealous and some jerk wants to accuse him of fudging the numbers?

    The facts don't lie. He gets respect and money from the people because he respects our intelligence.

    July 18, 2007 01:05 am at 1:05 am |
  14. EC, Marietta Ohio

    I'd like to hear more about how Hillary Clinton has taken Lobbyist money, and bought her endorsements, and less of this trying to make Obama look bad but failing miserably press coverage. If trying to make Obama look bad by pointing out his awesome fundraising abilities is all they can come up with on Obama, then that speaks pretty well of him.

    He doesn't have to try to inflate his numbers, they are what they are, and they speak for themselves.. Whether they send a check or purchase merchandise from the campaign, both are contributions. Period. This is just ridiculous to insinuate that Obama is in some way cheating or lying about his doners..

    July 18, 2007 04:01 am at 4:01 am |
  15. Anonymous

    I can't wait for Obama to take all guns away, get rid of the border between the U.S, Canada and Mexico, make a bigger government and possibly use a preemptive nuclear strike on Iran. It's gonna be great. Go Obama.

    July 18, 2007 05:36 am at 5:36 am |
  16. Shirley Orange Park Florida

    I am glad people are finally seeing Barack Obama for who his really is and what he represents. I say "Go Boy" . It's wonderful to have a hands down choice instead of choosing between the best of two evils(guess who that was). Thank God he can't run again and the other isn't running.

    July 18, 2007 05:43 am at 5:43 am |
  17. Shawnie - Grants Pass, OR

    I'm not an Obama fan, but am an advocate for honesty in media. This article is designed to give one impression, only undone if you read the article far enough. You get the impression that the author doesn't wish you to be impressed with Obama. This kind of manipulation is what robs jounalism as an occupation of respect.

    July 18, 2007 06:06 am at 6:06 am |
  18. Jeff Spangler, Arlington, VA

    This campaign is great political experience for a guy who doesn't have enough to win in '08 or to govern. Harvard Law Review and community organizing in Chicago is not enough. Maybe in 4 or 8 years.

    July 18, 2007 07:07 am at 7:07 am |
  19. Margaret.Lagos,Nigeria.

    To say the least,i am proud of Obama.From the first time i heard of him till date,i am continuosly amazed by the spirit of this great African-American.Believe me,This is the man America has been waiting for.America take your fate in your hands,your destiny has been mortaged but here is your saviour,give him the opportunity and you will never regret it.I wish the leaders in Africa were Obama-like ,then even the sky would not limit Africa.

    July 18, 2007 07:26 am at 7:26 am |
  20. Steve, Indianapolis, IN

    Doesn't it seem fishy that there have been a ton of "mini-scandals" reported against Obama, all of which have had no substance of have been "minor" at best. For instance, Hillary probably has thousands of Rezkos out there, yet the MSM held on to Obama's for a month. They attacked his wife for "corporate connections" even though the Obamas are by far the least affluent real candidate.

    Why don't we see Hillary's dirty donors, or are we supposed to believe that she's just that ethical of a politician?

    July 18, 2007 09:22 am at 9:22 am |
  21. Providence, RI

    Again, Obama is an empty shell with no substance! Obama has terrible records when he was a state senator. He voted for partial abortion (crushing the skull of the baby)!!!! in Illinois. Obama lacks experience! If you nominate Obama, Democrats lose general election. One may smile and smile and smile, and still be a villain- Shakespeare. That is Obama. Do you remember what hee said in 2004? He would NEVER RUN for white house! Didn't he say that? And here we are! You want to vote for a person like that?

    July 18, 2007 09:22 am at 9:22 am |
  22. Martin Atkins, Chicago, ILLANNOYS

    Wow, i was just mentioning the merch sales in my SG column, I've been in the music business for 30 yearts, any band would kill for thiose numbers!

    So, whats next? backstage passes??

    Obama unplugged?

    Who is the tour manager? hope they tour:smart!

    martin Atkins

    July 18, 2007 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  23. AJ, Seattle, WA

    I agree: the real news is all the money the candidates get from lobbyists and special interest groups–not the money they get from T-shirts.

    July 18, 2007 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  24. Jay, Broken Arrow , OK

    I've donated with and without recieving merchandise. It's all the same. Whenever someone is doing good you have, for lack of a better word, haters that hate to see people doing good.

    July 18, 2007 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  25. Jon, Indianola, IA

    I think it says a lot about politics in our country when it's newsworthy that a candidate is raising money by actually selling something.

    July 18, 2007 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
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