Bake Sales: The Political Fund-Raisers Of The Future?

Little cash but lots of media exposure as Moby, Franken, Garofalo and thousands of others get baked for Kerry.

Want to make a powerful political statement? Just dust off the old Betty Crocker cookbook and get ready to hock some baked goods for the political cause of your choice.

On Saturday in New York, Moby, Al Franken and Janeane Garofalo took the gloves off and put on the oven mitts, joining more than 1,000 bake sales across the nation organized by MoveOn.org, a political 527 organization (see "527 Is Magic Number For Cash-Strapped John Kerry Campaign"). The goal of the baking masses was not new uniforms for the softball team — but a victory for John Kerry this November.

The bake-sale-as-political-statement has been around for years, immortalized somewhat by bumper stickers seen on old Volkswagen Beetles: "It will be a great day when our schools get all the money they need and the Air Force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber." This recent trend, however, may owe its popularity to the UCLA Bruin Republicans' "affirmative-action bake sale," held in February of last year. The Bruin Republicans charged customers different amounts depending upon race. Coming in the midst of the Supreme Court deliberations on the University of Michigan affirmative-action case (over whether affirmative-action programs in U.S. universities should continue to help minorities, or whether they represent reverse discrimination), the bake sale was designed to question why racial preferences are accepted in the college-admissions process but are seen as divisive when applied to cookie prices.

Last Saturday, MoveOn.org upped the ante, using its Internet-organizing savvy to create "Bake Back the White House," a nationwide spree of bake sales to raise money for Kerry — and with a single e-mail, over 10,000 volunteers signed up to bake and sell. In less than a week, more than 1,000 bake sales were organized around the country, with names like "Have your cake and beat Bush, too" in Brooklyn, New York; "No CARB bake sale" in Denver (that's Cheney, Ashcroft, Rumsfeld, and Bush); and "Weapons of Mass Deliciousness" in Manhattan.

As with the affirmative-action bake sales, raising money was not the primary concern of "Bake Back the White House." MoveOn estimates that $750,000 was raised nationwide, which comes out to $25 a volunteer — probably as much as many spent on baking supplies. Instead, the bake sale was meant to do a number of other things: highlight the power of Internet organizing, build the MoveOn social network and — especially — to garner positive media attention. The MoveOn organizers knew that every local newspaper would send a reporter to cover the bake sales.

But no matter how old-fashioned and charming, the bake sales will probably remain in the novelty and network-building category for the foreseeable future. As far as fund raising goes, it's hard to justify spending hours in the kitchen to earn 25 bones when, as he did Thursday, John Kerry can raise a record-shattering $6.5 million in one night in Manhattan. Just in case you're wondering, he wasn't selling cupcakes.

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