McCain’s New Country First PAC Puts Web Donations First

After a brief hiatus, John McCain supporters were greeted with an e-mail yesterday notifying them that the former presidential candidate has “decided to launch a new grassroots organization called Country First.”

The goals, according to the e-mail, are to strengthen the GOP, recruit strong candidates, “better define our Republican ideals and message,” and “make government more responsive to today’s problems and more answerable to the people.”

The more immediate goals, however, are to take advantage of the large e-mail list McCain amassed during his run for president and to drum up donations.

In order to become a “Charter Member” of the new Political Action Committee, supporters are asked to click-through and make a contribution. mccain_countryfirst.jpg

The message from the Arizona senator says little about how the PAC will achieve the stated mission of helping “elect these new leaders to Governorships, Statehouses, the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives in 2010 and beyond.”

Although the organization’s Web site features a video clip in which McCain expresses why he loves the U.S., the e-mail makes no mention of the video. Instead, all but one link in the message direct recipients to an online contribution form. The video itself cannot be shared.

The site was built by Campaign Solutions, one of the Web consulting firms McCain used for his election campaign. The current CountryFirstPAC.com site is a placeholder, and there are plans to build one with more features.

McCain stepped away from the spotlight after losing the election; indeed, for the time being, his PAC was intended only as a means of keeping in touch with supporters, rather than garnering media attention, according to a source familiar with the effort.

The candidate and the people involved with his campaign’s Web efforts have done little on the Web via e-mail or social media since November to maintain momentum built up during the election season. In fact, as late as yesterday afternoon the official McCain Facebook page still listed him as “Currently Running for” president, and promoted a tool for finding local polling places.

Meanwhile, since the election, President-Elect Barack Obama’s transition team has been sending out e-mails, some asking supporters to hold house parties and participate in crafting policies by discussing issues like healthcare. The Change.gov Web site associated with the transition is regularly updated with video and blog posts, and allows people to ask questions and vote on how important or relevant they are to the country and federal policies. A top question yesterday was, “What strategies other than bailouts can we employ to keep jobs in America?”

Obama’s campaign and his transition team have received primarily positive responses to their online community-building efforts. Although Obama’s post-election e-mails have asked supporters to help fund the upcoming inauguration, the transition team has also used e-mail to push people to interact with the Change.gov site, and organize real-world get-togethers with other citizens.

The McCain PAC e-mail made it seem like “They were just trying to raise money,” said a conservative Web strategist who referred to the PAC effort as “McCain realizing that he has a monster e-mail list.” Rather than linking directly to a donation page, said the observer, the e-mail should have driven people to the video and collected e-mail addresses. “Instead, they’re going with the highest barrier of entry they could think of.”

The source contended McCain should have attempted to engage supporters through the new organization, rather than automatically asking people to fund it.

Still, it’s near impossible to separate money from politics or vice versa. The source familiar with the PAC promotion stressed the need to fund such an organization. “Every PAC has to start someplace.”

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