*McCain the Webmaster

Arizona Senator John McCain continued to exploit the Internet’s fundraising power with yesterday's Internet-only Webcast fundraiser. The event drew 500 people who contributed $100 each to see and interact with the Republican hopeful as he sat in an empty auditorium at South Carolina State University in Orangeburg where he is gearing up for the state’s primary on Feb. 19.

“We have tremendous support from across the nation from people who have not been able to attend an event with Senator McCain,” said McCain2000.com Internet manager Jeff Fos, who tapped Webcasting companies Intervu and BroadcastZone to stage the fundraiser. “We decided to do an interactive event where we could raise money and supporters could attend and be able to touch the senator through the Internet.”

According to each candidate’s Webmaster, McCain's two sites, mccaininteractive.com and mccain2000.com, have raised more than $2.7 million, including $1 million raised in the week following his win in the New Hampshire primary. His closest online competitor, Democrat Bill Bradley, trails him by more than $1 million with a total of $1.6 million. Third is vice president Al Gore with just over $1.1 million raised online. Trailing the Internet fundraising pack is Republican George W. Bush whose total campaign contributions nearly double all other candidates but who has raised a paltry $350,000 online since launching his site in March. Figures from Republican long shot Alan Keyes and former candidate Steve Forbes were not available.

“Senator McCain views the Internet as a great equalizer, which has leveled the playing field in this campaign to both educate and to raise money,” said Fos. “We're making history right now. We knew there would be a response [to the site], but we just didn't know it would be to this degree. We prepared for it with dedicated servers, but the volume has just been overwhelming.”

Bush and Gore regularly Webcast live speeches and campaign events but have never charged viewers to watch and do not plan to, campaign spokesmen said. The official sites for Bradley and Keyes make video clips and commercials available to visitors but do not plan to Webcast live, their spokesmen said.

Establishing a plan for using the Internet to his advantage was reportedly high on Forbes' campaign wish list, but he failed to follow up on his early Internet fundraising successes. The Republican set a precedent with a shorter, non-interactive Webcast fund-raiser in June, but charged only $10 for the net event and never tried to duplicate it, even after 1,800 people paid to see Forbes speak for less then an hour in front of a live audience. Forbes also Webcast his declaration of candidacy and a live question and answer session with Iowa students last September.

Though McCain's success at getting people to punch in their credit card numbers online seems to support Internet marketing as an effective campaign tool, other candidates’ spokesmen downplayed the medium as a fundraiser.

“We have integrated the Internet into our campaign as an educational tool, not to raise money,” said Gore campaign Webmaster Ben Green. “We're not being so one-dimensional that we would see this merely as a campaign fundraiser.”

The Bush camp joined Green in his assertion that the Internet should provide information, not act as a revenue generator for candidates.

“We don't see this site as a fundraising tool, but more as a way to educate people about the campaign and Governor Bush,” said Bush campaign Webmaster Greg Sedberry. “We're not like everybody else, trying to use the site to get money ”

Forbes’ Webmaster Jeff Jones conceded they may not have used the site and Webcasting technology to their fullest fundraising abilities.

“We didn't really play it up, we just used the site and Webcasting because we thought we should,” said Jones. “I guess we probably should have pushed it more since that's what McCain is doing.”

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