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The rise of the small donor

It's true that independent groups are happily taking in millions of soft dollars that the parties can no longer accept, deploying foot soldiers to canvass and register voters, and airing TV ads aimed at influencing opinion. But the parties, too, are flush with cash. They've ramped up their quest for limited "hard money" donations, and been greeted by a flood of cash from individuals. The donor rolls of the two major parties have swelled by 2-1/2 million people.

"Really, the story of this election is in some ways the power of the small donor," says Anthony Corrado, a campaign-finance expert at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. "We have really seen a democratization of the financing of elections in this cycle. When the law was passed, everyone was saying ... 'The parties will wither away and die. The interest groups will rule the world.' Well, if we look through the end of May, national party committees have raised $546 million in hard money."

The presidential race is also awash with money, fueled by individual donations. ...

But the new rules don't necessarily explain the burst of giving. It may be as much a matter of passion, with Bush partisans focused on keeping the White House and Congress in Republican hands, and Democrats equally motivated after the close and controversial outcome in 2000.

"You always have increases in small gifts when people feel very strongly in an election," says Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia.

The next question is whether this burst of donating will translate into higher turnout, in an era when voter participation has been drifting steadily downward since 1960. It's possible that those motivated enough to donate are already emotionally invested enough in the process to turn out on Election Day. But it's also possible, analysts say, that getting potential voters into the game now will heighten their motivation come election day. -- In politics, the rise of small donors (csmonitor.com)