05/08/2012 02:54 pm ET Updated May 08, 2012

Small Donors Flee House Republicans, Flock To House Democrats In First Quarter Of 2012

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) knows how to rile with rhetoric.

He has called the entire Congressional Progressive Caucus "members of the Communist Party," told Democratic National Committee chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) that she is "not a lady," and said that Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels would "be very proud" of Democrats.

While liberals react with shock while creating lists documenting West's outrages, conservatives are opening their wallets.

In the first quarter of 2012, West raised more money from donors giving less than $200 in aggregate, than any other member of the House of Representatives. West's grassroots haul -- $857,265 out of a total $1.8 million -- came despite a big drop in small-donor giving to both House Republicans and the party's House campaign committee.

According to the first-quarter campaign reports filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC), the House Republican candidates raised only 8 percent of their total campaign contributions from donors chipping in less than $200. That's down from 11.5 percent during the first quarter of 2010, which was the first quarter of the previous election year.

The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), the House Republicans' electoral arm, is fairing far worse. In the first three months of 2010, the NRCC raised 38 percent of its contributions from small donors, but over the same time-period in 2012, that total has been cut to only 16 percent.

Despite this drop-off, the NRCC is still committed to keeping Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) from returning to the speakership.

"Nancy Pelosi is aggressive in wooing donors to fund her campaign to return to the Speaker’s chair," NRCC communications director Paul Lindsay said to The Huffington Post in an e-mailed message. "It's a daily reminder to us that the stakes are high in this election, and we will continue to do everything we can to prevent her from again obtaining power and inflicting further harm on a fragile economy."

Meanwhile, the House Democrats are on a roll raising money from small donors. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), the NRCC's counterpart, raised 40.7 percent of its total in the first quarter from small donors, up from 34.8 percent over the same period in 2010. Democratic candidates for the House pulled in 10.3 percent from small donors, a slight increase from the 9.5 percent they raised in the first quarter of 2010.

"Throughout this Congress we've seen grassroots Democrats around the country energized and supporting our efforts across the country with small donations because they are fired up by the extremism of the Republican agenda," DCCC spokesman Jesse Ferguson said.

This surge in small donations to the Democratic candidates and the DCCC follows the same pattern that research into small dollar donations has shown in the past: Small donations typically come from strong appeals over issues that are fundamental for partisans.

"It's safe to say that small donors tend to have a more ideological bent to their giving," said Adam Bonica, an assistant professor of political science at Stanford University. Bonica researched small giving and found that the majority of it goes to the poles of the political parties.

It's no surprise then that someone like West, who aims to cause outrage, leads the pack in small-dollar donations. Neither is it surprising that the minority party can more easily raise small-dollar donations when it has a lot of material available from the majority party's actions.

To reach those ideological small donors, candidates and party committees live by an old cliche: You have to spend money to make money.

Proving this, the NRCC's small donor drop-off in the first quarter of 2012 coincides with a massive reduction in spending on direct donor contact. In the first three months of 2010 the NRCC reported spending $3.34 million on fundraising calls. That amount dropped to $902,351 in the first three months of 2012.

The DCCC, meanwhile, increased its spending on telemarketing from $1.16 million in the first quarter of 2010 to $1.88 million during the same period in 2012.

West, the top small-donor fundraiser in the first quarter of 2012, also spent big to raise those small contributions. His campaign spent $1 million on fundraising in the first three months of the year.

This doesn't diminish the fact that House Democrats have had much more ammunition to cater to small-donor passions in 2012 than they did in 2010.

"It started last year with the Republicans choosing to threaten to shut down the government in order to defund Planned Parenthood and then the Republican vote for the Ryan budget through to the most recent battles over Republican efforts to threaten contraception," Ferguson said, explaining the rise in small contributions.

Democrats made up the majority of the top small-donor recipients in the opening months of 2012. And those Democrats tended to be those more capable of firing up the party's base with red meat attacks on Republican policies.

The top small donor fundraiser for the Democrats was former congressman Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), who raised $404,466 out of a total of $568,058 from small donors in the first quarter of 2012.

Grayson is well-known for stating in 2009 that the Republican health-care plan was, "Don't get sick. And if you do, die quickly." After making those remarks, which were condemned by Republicans and the mainstream media, Grayson reported that he received 5,000 campaign contributions in response and raised $347,000 in the third quarter of 2009, much of it attributed to his fiery remarks.

Netroots favored candidates top the list with the following all landing in the top 20 small-donor recipients for the first quarter of 2012: former Michele Bachmann opponent Tarryl Clark, anti-war activist and author Norman Solomon, and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and challengers to much-disliked Republican incumbents Christie Vilsack, opposing Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), and Rob Zerban, opposing Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.).

Outside of West, Republicans, sapped of the insurgent Tea Party energy of 2010, count only seven candidates in the top 20 small-donor recipients. Those candidates include Rep. King (R-Iowa) and perennial candidate Vernon Robinson and challengers like Sean Bielat and Rocky Raczkowski.

Back in 2010, when Republicans dominated small donor fundraising, they could count on inflammatory rhetoric and accidental outbursts to help them stimulate the base to open their wallets. Today, they are missing just those sorts of special moments where an outburst or a comment deemed out-of-bounds by the Washington press corps could help energize their base.

Case in point: one of the top small donor recipients from the first quarter of 2010, Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.).

Wilson is one of the leading small-donor fundraisers for Republicans in 2010 who does not show up on the list in 2012. In 2010, Wilson, sitting in Congress watching the president give his State of the Union speech, yelled, "You lie!," after President Barack Obama stated that undocumented immigrants would not receive health benefits under his health care plan.

The outburst turned into a fundraising bonanza for the little-known congressman as he raised $194,102 from small donors in the first quarter of 2010. That accounted for 57 percent of his total fundraising during that period.

Of course, the dash for small-donor cash could have implications for how Congress is run just as much as the political action committee (PAC) money that influences behavior on Capitol Hill.

"The more prevalent or powerful small donors become, the more extreme the candidates and the parties become," Bonica said.