In the first six months of 2007, 258,000 people—more than a quarter million—have donated to Barack Obama's presidential campaign. Since none of the other candidates in either party has claimed more than 100,000 donors, Obama's roster is a remarkable record.
But the NYT uncovers a caveat: unlike the calculations of every other campaign, this number is not limited to actual donations, but includes paraphernalia sales, like Obama T-shirts, baseball caps and buttons.
Muddying the waters further, the Obama campaign has not disclosed how many donors have exclusively contributed in this way.
Is this gaming the system, or innovative bookkeeping? You decide.
Update: Seems like it's truth in advertising. According to Obama spokesman Dan Pfeiffer,
These purchasers are donors, and the law requires that we treat them as donors, which is indeed what they are and how their monies are used. There is no "trick" involved. People who support Obama would like something to show their support, a hat or T-shirt: this is a way that small donors in particular can show their support and still contribute to the campaign. Most of these donors have contributed again… and again. We are proud to have them. Campaigns that don't expect to have this level of interest among small donors tend to outsource their campaign material sales to vendors. For example, the Clinton campaign has contracted with Financial Innovations to sell their paraphernalia. Financial Innovations makes all of the profit from those sales and takes the loss if no one buys the materials. To our knowledge, the Obama campaign, because of the tremendous grassroots enthusiasm, is the only campaign to feel they could generate sufficient interest in T-shirts and other materials to not contract with an outside vendor.
Furthermore, Pfeiffer says, people buying campaign paraphernalia (mostly T-shirts) account for "less than 1% of our donors," and more than half of those who bought such items subsequently gave to the campaign in the traditional way.