In Saturday’s AMP Summit panel discussion on effective online campaigning, fellow online politics old-timer Chris Casey made a great observation: politics may still be local, but fundraising in a networked age is national. I.e., candidates still have to reflect and react to attitudes and events in the districts they represent, but the money that funds campaigns now can come from anywhere. And as we’ve seen in lower-turnout elections through the entire 2010 cycle, both special elections and primaries, national money can make a decisive difference: Lisa Murkowski and Mike Castle may be the latest victims, but Scott Brown’s win back in January had already shown the way.
Of course, outside money is nothing new in politics — industries, unions and interest groups have flooded critical races with cash for decades — but what IS novel is the ability of the online tools to gather contributions from small donors and bundle them up into a meaningful sum again and again. Obama’s 2008 campaign remains the prime example, but many other groups on all parts of the political spectrum are building up grassroots donor bases with an eye toward repeating his success on behalf of their own issues. We’ll see whether the trend can survive the inevitable defeats that groups will endure, since not EVERYONE can win an election — donors may drift away if they don’t see their work as effective. But fear works, too — just ask the Tea Parties now and MoveOn back during the Bush days. Motivation may be just a scary email away…or a hope-filled one, depending.