Connections: Can You Spare a Dime?

I’d love to know how $3 became the ubiquitous “ask,” rather than $2 or $4

    Ever since the 2004 presidential election, when I went to Florida to try to help legitimate voters avoid being turned away from the polls, it feels like every progressive organization in the country has had me on its radar. Perhaps one gave another its database; I certainly haven’t been signing up myself.

    It’s no secret that the groups targeting me as a potential donor or at least someone who might sign a petition are on the Democratic side of the aisle. I haven’t spent a lot of time pondering the fiasco of the 2004 election, but I can’t help noting today that if Secretary of State John Kerry had won, John Edwards would have been vice president. (Now that s something to set your mind whirling.)

    Although I haven’t contributed anything at all to a political campaign since Barack Obama first ran for the presidency in 2008, the number of groups seeking me out has continued to grow. The good result, although it is rather funny, is that I am now familiar with the names of elected officials from states which I rarely if ever have even visited: There’s Senator Jon Tester of Montana, Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Representative Dave Loebsack of Iowa. . . . 

    Recently, I’ve been asked over and over to chip in $3 to various campaigns.  Yes, exactly $3. The idea seems to be that more people will contribute if they are asked for a small amount rather than a large one, and that this will produce a broad base that will lift the organization to its fund-raising goal on the wings of a million butterflies.

    I’d love to know how $3 became the ubiquitous “ask,” rather than $2 or $4. Has an odd number been proven to appeal in some way to our subconscious? Who started this trend for micro-appeals?

    The number of e-mail asks flooding my in-box was over the  top last week, as the Sept. 30 Federal Election Commission cutoff for quarterly reports from various political committees approached. The appeals all warned that there was a looming fund-raising deadline; on Monday, I kept being told, over and over, that the deadline was midnight. Perhaps someone will explain to me what difference it would make if these organizations received someone’s $3 on Oct. 1 rather than Sept 30. Isn’t it all dedicated to the same end?

    Then — and this really did pique my curiosity — a number of senators suddenly upped the ante. Senators Dick Durbin and Harry Reid each asked for $5. Rob Zerban of Wisconsin, who may run against Paul Ryan for the House of Representatives in 2014, asked for $7. Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut asked for $10. Senator Charles Schumer asked for $25. Before I knew it, Vice President Joe Biden and Michelle Obama each asked for $75, while the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee wanted a whopping $80. And so on. . . .

    You may wonder — I know I do — why I spend so much time reading and dissecting these e-mails. Why don’t I just ditch them into the trash?

    I guess I keep combing through them because they are everyday evidence of how the Internet has changed political campaigning. I hope this is evidence of a new grassroots. Is the $3 donation the answer to the Super PAC?