Presto. All it took was a computer, an Internet connection and $250 billed straight to her credit card.
Donating to a presidential campaign had never been so easy for Janet Breid: Just a few clicks of a mouse and the Columbia retiree became part of a new group of political participants, driven by divisive politics to volunteer, vote and donate in record numbers to this year's presidential campaigns.
Democrats are doing it. So are Republicans. And no matter whom they're giving to or why they're donating, presidential campaign contributors in Boone County and all over the country are turning out this year.
“There's a real polarization of how people feel about George Bush,” said Breid, a supporter of Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry. “More people I know are donating, and even more are getting involved (with campaigns).”
Breid is one of more than 100 Kerry donors living in Boone County and its neighboring six counties and one of nearly 250 contributors in the same area who have given directly to Kerry or President Bush since Jan. 1, 2003, according to Federal Election Commission data released Aug. 25.
The data also found regional donors like Breid have given nearly $160,000 to presidential campaigns in direct contributions of between $200 and $2,000 — more than five times what Bush and then-Vice President Al Gore raised here in 2000 combined, according to a Missourian analysis of individual contributions during the past two election cycles.
The federal election cycle period goes from the start of the primary season until the general presidential elec-tion. The past two cycles have been from 1999-2002 and 2002-04.
According to donors and party officials, the reason for the increase is clear: Election fever is more passionate than it's been in decades. The war in Iraq, a sluggish economy and America's crawling return to normalcy since Sept. 11, 2001, have polarized voters across the country.
As analysts, strategists and pundits have been noting for months, this year's election is a different ballgame, even in largely rural mid-Missouri.
"Bush wants to be seen as a president who unites," said Bill Benoit, an MU professor and expert in campaign communications. "But in fact, he's been more divi-sive than any president in recent history."
A quick glance at the money flowing from Boone County and its neighbors reveals a changing portrait of political involvement throughout the region.
Just four years ago, a higher percentage of donors in the area worked in higher-income professions. They cut fewer checks. Most were Republican. And in Boone County, which Gore won by a hair in the 2000 general elections, Bush topped Gore in individual contributors 15 to one.
But now, donors frequently aren't in the higher-income bracket. More often than in 2000, they're also homemakers, retirees, small-business owners and students.
Individual contributions, which form the bulk of presidential fund-raising, are climbing faster than ever, and more of them, according to campaign officials, are coming from the middleclass.
"You get a lot of mailings, but not a lot of pressure," said Columbia native Don Landers, who gave $1,000 to the Bush campaign last year. "This is a regular thing for me … it takes money to run campaigns."
HOW TO GIVE
After their respective national conventions, both President Bush and Democratic challenger John Kerry opted to accept public financing for their campaigns, limiting the ways you can give them money. But it’s not too late to donate to either candidate, or the other two candidates on Missouri’s ballot. You can donate up to $2,000 in one election cycle. Here’s how:
PRESIDENT BUSH (Republican)
Internet: Visit www.bushforpresident.com and click the link that reads “Donate to GELAC.” Simply fill out and submit the form, which includes a credit card number.
Mail: Download and fill out the form at www.rncfc.org/contribute. Make checks payable to the Republican National Committee.
Phone: Call 202-863-8500
SEN. JOHN KERRY (Democrat)
Internet: Visit contribute at johnkerry.com and choose whether you’d like to donate to Kerry’s legal compliance fund or to the Democratic National Committee. Simply select an option and fill in the required information, which includes a credit card number.
Mail: Download and fill out the form at www.democrats.org/support/phonemail.html. Make checks payable to the Democratic National Committee.
Phone: Call toll-free at 877-336-7200.
MICHAEL BADNARIK (Libertarian)
MICHAEL PEROUTKA (Constitution)
Note: Campaign donations are not tax-deductible.
Because of Breid, Landers and dozens of donors like them, money for this election has been flowing from Boone and surrounding counties like never before.
Take Jefferson City for example. Donors living there most often gave their money to Bush: About one-third of the $101,000 he's raised in the region came from the capital city, specifically from ZIP codes 65101 and 65109. Across Cole County, Bush raked in about 85 percent of the $65,000 raised there this cycle.
Bush's campaign hasn't done poorly in Boone County, either, raising about $26,000 since January 2003.
But if you're a donor from Columbia and Boone County, you more likely have supported Kerry. Of the $57,010 Kerry has raised in the region, about $44,000 has come from Boone County, mostly from Columbia's west side in ZIP code 65203. Of Kerry's 107 mid-Missouri donors, 82 are Columbians and seven are from smaller Boone County towns.
Almost everywhere else in the region, as analysts have expected, the rural dollar is going to Bush. In the seven-county area, he has raised about $101,000 to Kerry's $57,000.
"I think it speaks to our grass-roots effort," Missouri Republican Party spokesman Paul Sloca said. "We set a goal of 25,000 volunteers, and we got 35,000."
For most mid-Missourians, donating to presidential campaigns certainly wasn't as common four years ago.
At this time in 2000, the same group of Missouri coun-ties was home to 37 donors - 31 for Bush and six for Gore. And those donors gave a total of only about $28,000, less than 30 percent of what Bush raised there this election cycle.
Many donors and campaign workers, Republican and Democrat alike, said the stark differences between Bush's and Kerry's policies are most likely the impetus for the election-year surge that has pulled so many first-time voters and donors out of the woodwork.
In addition, Internet campaigning, popularized by Howard Dean's Democratic primary campaign, has also made donating much easier, and people have been tak-ing advantage.
Contributions of less than $200, which are often do-nated via Internet, now compose about $194 million of all money raised by candidates, according to a study by the non-profit Campaign Finance Institute. In 2000, they composed just $50 million.
With $77 million, Kerry has brought in more in small contributions than any presidential candidate in history. At $69 million, Bush is a close second.
"In 2000, there just wasn't this same sense of ur-gency," said Columbian Ann Edwards, who donated $500 to Kerry.
Regardless of means or motivation, presidential fund raising has set records across the board this year. Re-ceipts for both candidates reached $650 million accord-ing to the FEC data - nearly twice the $345 million raised at the same time in 2000.
Much of that money, according to the nonprofit Cen-ter for Responsive Politics, goes to television ads, travel expenses and salaries for thousands of campaign work-ers.
How we did it
To analyze individual campaign contributions, the Missourian used a database from the Federal Election Commission of all individual donors in the United States, extracting the data for Boone and surrounding counties by ZIP code.
The database is imperfect, according to the commission, but it is the most comprehensive list of individual contributions available.
In three instances, the Missourian excluded entries in which donations were misentered. The database also does not include donations of less than $200 because candidates are not required to report them.
Using computer software, the Missourian mapped and sorted donations by ZIP code, by city and by county, listing only data from Boone and surrounding counties, which include Audrain, Callaway, Cole, Cooper, Howard, Moniteau and Randolph.
After duplicate entries were deleted, the result was a report of donation trends roughly displayed by county, city and ZIP code. The analysis was performed on data from Jan. 1, 2003, through Aug. 1 — the most up-to-date data provided by the FEC — and on data from 2000 representing similar dates.