It's Politics: Say Something Edgy, Raise $1 Million

The Washington Post probes the phenomenon of the "money blurt"

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When Representative Michele Bachmann said President Obama held "anti-American views," she took a lot of criticism, but she also took in almost $1 million in campaign donations. The Washington Post's Dan Eggen and T.W. Farnam call this phenomenon the "money blurt"--a controversial soundbite that's not quite a gaffe but offers red meat to a politician's base. The maybe-spontaneous-maybe-not money blurt is a "close cousin" to the money bomb, the fundraising technique employed by Rep. Ron Paul to raise millions of dollars overnight. After a politician makes their headline-grabbing comment, his or her staff start working the phones to pull in donations. Bachmann has been particularly effective employing this tactic.

What other attention-getting statements have raised mad cash for candidates? Eggen and Farnam note a few:

  • "You lie"  Rep. Joe Wilson made a lot of people really angry when he interrupted President Obama's address to Congress in September 2009 by shouting "You lie!" It only took a week to make in $2 million off the statement, thanks to encouragement from conservative bloggers.
  • "Die quickly"  Former Rep. Alan Grayson raised $1 million when he used this phrase to describe Republicans' health care plan in 2009.
  • "Get your musket, to fix your bayonet, to charge into the ranks"  Rep. Allen West, then a candidate, urged supporters in a late 2009. The clip went viral, and West raised $1 million, a big chunk of the $6.5 million West raised for the entire campaign.
  • "[Obama is] turning our country into a nation of slaves"  Bachmann said in the summer of 2010. She raised $5 million that quarter.

But it can go the other way. When Bachmann said Obama might have "anti-American views"--and maybe members of Congress should be investigated to make sure they don't--in 2008, it wasn't immediately clear the comment would make her a winner. In fact, as US News' Amanda Ruggeri reports, before Bachmann made the comment on Hardball, her opponent in that race, the little-known and oddly-named Elwyn Tinklenberg, had only managed to raise $1 million in a year of campaigning. In the 10 days after the blurt, Tinklenberg pulled in $8.1 million. Tinklenberg lost, but by just 3 points--in a district that John McCain won by 8 points. And Bachmann's lefty counterpart, Grayson, lost his bid for reelection last fall.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.