Who Are You Wearing? Barack Obama, Apparently.

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The news that Barack Obama has been counting all the people who buy his t-shirts and bumper stickers as being among his record 258,000 campaign donors is causing something of a stir today.

Frequent Swampland commenter Paul Lukasiak weighs in, taking a little jab (though we love him anyway) at yours truly:

It turns out that Obama’s contributor numbers were WAY inflated, because they included anyone who bought a bumper sticker, or a keychain with his name on it, or paid $5 to hear him talk. Yet he represented these people as if they had simply handed over cash for nothing in return, and the media went all ga-ga over his “stunning” ( the word one reporter used to describe it) contributor base. Basically, he made the mainstream media look like idiots…

It does indeed look like grade inflation to count everyone who buys a piece of merchandise as a donor. (And what does that say about any potential professional ethics issues created by the “Deadheads for Dukakis” button that is buried somewhere in the back of my desk drawer?)

So I called the campaign, and here’s how they respond:

Obama spokesman Dan Pfeiffer says that people buying campaign paraphernalia (mostly t-shirts) account for “less than 1% of our donors”–or 2,580 out of the total donor base of 258,000. He also contends that more than half of those who bought items like t-shirts (which puts you on their e-mail list) subsequently gave to the campaign in the traditional way.

Pfeiffer also wrote in an e-mail sent around to reporters today that the campaign lists purchasers of its merchandise as donors because it is required to:

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.