07/18/2007 09:52 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Obama By the Numbers

Sometimes you aren't there to cheer. Sometimes you just go to campaign events to listen and learn. And sometimes you just want a tchotchke.

If you showed up to hear Barack Obama speak and paid $5 for the ticket ... or if you just bought a $4.50 keychain for your sister, who's a huge Obama fan ... you've already been counted.

The Obama campaign has been reporting an astounding 258,000 contributors to its campaign in just six months. But as the New York Times found, that number includes every person who bought a keychain or a ticket to a speech. Fork over five bucks, and voila -- you're an Obama supporter.

Other campaigns don't do this -- although I'm sure they wish they'd thought of it. But it's a kind of political press gang technique, a cheesy and desperate-looking tactic. It reminded me of someone who played his own numbers game: Michael Brown, "Brownie," the notorious FEMA secretary.

As I recall, when his credentials for the job were challenged [after Katrina and his career with the International Arabian Horse Association came to light], Brown listed all the natural disasters he had handled on his FEMA watch. The numbers looked impressive because of the way he counted them: a single disaster was multiplied by the number of states that storm affected. That way, for example, the same single bad snowstorm that hit four New England states was counted as four separate disasters.

I hope the Obama people drop the "involuntary enlistment" head count, if for no other reason than that it might remind people of the math techniques of some other Illinois politicians -- guys who took office on the votes of the dead.