With her donors tapped out, Clinton turns to Internet

WASHINGTON — Running out of high-dollar donors, Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign is stepping up its Internet appeals in hopes of attracting enough contributions to keep afloat financially in the last stretch of Democratic primaries, aides say.

As the marathon money chase has strained the limits of traditional campaign fundraising, Clinton aides have sought increasingly to shadow rival Barack Obama's Internet juggernaut that has raised more than $112 million via the Web,

Through March 31, Clinton had corralled 70 percent of her $148 million in individual primary donations in amounts over $200, including $82 million from those giving between $1,000 and the maximum of $2,300, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute.

Now, a senior Clinton fundraising operative confided, big donors are nearly tapped out.

``I think the tank is empty,'' said the fundraiser, who spoke without authorization and insisted upon anonymity. ``This is just unprecedented money raising. It's like the movie that wouldn't end. Hillary excelled at all of this major donor money, but there's a limit. Where there is money left is on the Internet.''

Internet appeals, which have brought more than $60 million to Clinton's campaign this year, have already helped the New York senator rebound twice from near insolvency.

In February, Clinton loaned her campaign $5 million and sent a message to her supporters.

``When she made the $5 million loan, she was essentially telling her supporters and potential small donors that she needed them. She was able to communicate with them quickly and cheaply over the Internet," said Michael Malbin, the executive director of the Campaign Finance Institute.

At the time, the campaign had raised $30 million in credit card contributions over the Web, said Clinton Internet director Peter Daou.

On April 22, Clinton was another $10.3 million in debt when she won the Pennsylvania Democratic primary. Over the next 24 hours, 100,000 mostly first-time Internet donors contributed $10 million, aides said.

The instant surges of cash underscore the Internet's arrival as a significant player in American politics — one that can change a race's dynamic overnight by accelerating the fundraising process.

Behind the scenes, Internet fundraising involves assembling massive email lists and crafting targeted appeals.

Obama has led the way, first pioneering the creation of social networks that Malbin likened to ``the electronic equivalent of precinct organizations.''

In Indiana, ahead of Tuesday's primary, Obama supporters can go to a campaign web page devoted to the state, type in their ZIP codes and locate the closest pro-Obama group, such as Bloomington for Obama, or Central Indiana for Obama.

``There are 8,000 of these groups that have formed across the country,'' said Joe Rospars, Obama's 27-year-old new media director. The campaign boasts that 800,000 people have set up on-line accounts with

The networks ultimately created legions of contributors.

``The concept of a donation is just one of those things that we ask folks to do to increase their level of involvement,'' Rospars said.

One highly successful strategy, he said, entails inviting supporters to match contributions from first-time donors — a process that ends with the two donors emailing each other about how and why they got involved in the campaign.

Daou, 43, was a keyboard player who recorded 500 albums with the likes of Mariah Carey and Janet Jackson before he was drawn to environmental and human rights activism and wound up working with the Kerry-Edwards campaign in 2004.

Daou said that the Clinton campaign tries to coax involvement from Internet viewers interested in a particular issue, such as those backing Clinton's call for President Bush to boycott the Olympics' opening ceremony in Beijing to protest China's treatment of Tibet.

If people sign up on the Internet site to back that issue, he said, ``we then — respectfully, of course — ask them if they'd like to take more action on behalf of the campaign, if they're interested in other issues.''

``Then to see if you can expand the relationship into more activism and contributions,'' Daou said.