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Every so often, I receive mass emails from political campaigns urging me to make a donation in advance of an FEC fundraising deadline. They claim that it's really important for them to reach some monetary goal by the deadline in order for the campaign to succeed.

How much of this is actually true, and how much is just a sales pitch? What do FEC fundraising deadlines actually mean, and what significance do they have in the political process?

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  • First of all, it's a standard sales pitch/fundraising tactics. No different from "Buy this XYZ service ASAP while this wonderful offer is in effect" or "Urgently pounce on this while the supplies last!!!". Not really special to politics. It stems from basic psychology - people are more likely to commit to a choice if they see a deadline.

  • Second, the campaigns are like businesses. They make hiring and firing decisions and other budgerary decisions once they know their budgets. Straight from the horse's (e.g. Obama Campaign's) mouth:

    That's why this deadline on Tuesday matters. Our hiring decisions are based on what our budget looks like on August 1st.

  • Third, because the SEC reports on the numbers only up to the deadline. A campaign looks better if the reported numbers are higher for a variety of reasons - please note that Nate Silver's model includes fundraising #s into its parameters so it DOES matter.

    The speed here matters, as it's a positive feedback loop - the more money you raise faster, the more successful your campaign looks, the more willing people will be to donate/volunteer later.


    Whatever we have in the bank when that clock strikes midnight will be an important measure of how ready we are to take on the other side.

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