Here’s how it works: An up-and-coming politician blurts out something incendiary, provocative or otherwise controversial. The remark bounces around the blogs and talk shows and becomes a sensation.
Consider Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), the tea party favorite and newly minted presidential candidate, who has made a specialty of raising money in the wake of bold and well-placed remarks. Shortly after accusing President Obama of having “anti-American views” during one cable-news appearance, for example, Bachmann took in nearly $1 million.
The use of money blurts could have a significant impact on the strength of some candidates’ fundraising efforts, which will come into focus next month with the release of fresh disclosure forms for GOP presidential campaigns. Bachmann aides have said she received a major boost with her appearance at a Republican debate in New Hampshire, though they did not release numbers.
The phenomenon marks another phase in the quest for money in politics, fueled by the eternal hum of the Internet, social media and 24-hour cable news. The tactic could prove especially valuable for insurgent candidates such as Bachmann who are likely to rely heavily on smaller donations for their 2012 campaigns.
“It’s a great way to attract a very high volume of small donors and drive excitement,” said Ron Bonjean, a GOP consultant and co-founder of Singer Bonjean Strategies. “If you’re in the money game and you say something controversial, you’ll have support from a very energetic core.”
The money blurt — spontaneous or not — is a close cousin to a technique called the “money bomb,” in which a campaign or its supporters designate a specific day or time period to raise a vast amount of cash and generate publicity. The best-known practitioner is libertarian favorite Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.), whose followers have used money bombs to raise as much as $6 million at a time for his presidential campaigns.
As for money blurts, perhaps the most famous example came in September 2009, when back-bench House Republican Joe Wilson (S.C.) yelled “You lie!” during an Obama address to Congress.
Within a week of the outburst, supporters had given more than $2 million to the little-known congressman, urged on by conservative bloggers and Wilson’s own campaign. His Democratic challenger cited Wilson’s remark in his own fundraising, prompting a sudden campaign arms race.
“Our office has been overwhelmed with phone calls, letters and contributions,” Wilson said several days after the incident.
Former congressman Alan Grayson, a liberal firebrand from Florida, attracted GOP condemnation in 2009 after he said on the House floor that the Republican health-care plan amounted to “Die quickly.” He quickly raised nearly $1 million.