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Marketplace Morning Report

Sanders has no super PAC — but he might have something better

Tony Wagner Nov 4, 2015
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Throughout his insurgent run for the White House in  2016, Bernie Sanders’ campaign has had an old-fashioned, populist bent: the long-serving congressman is one of the only candidates without a SuperPAC, and he leads the field in donations below $200. Eighty-eight percent of the $40 million he’s raised so far came from small contributions.

But the way he’s raising all that money isn’t quite so old-fashioned. About three-quarters of Sanders’ fundraising from July through September — more than $19 million — came from ActBlue, a nonprofit that makes it easy for left-leaning donors to kick Democratic candidates a few bucks. 

It used to be Republican campaigns used to be characterized by small donors, New York Times noted this week in a report on ActBlue, but online fundraising has given Democrats an edge. Most of the establishment GOP candidates enjoy support from SuperPACs — which are in turn funded by a handful of wealthy families — as campaigns continue to rely on costly analog fundraising methods.

Let’s do the numbers:

74 percent

Sanders’ closest competitor for small donations is another outsider: Ben Carson. The retired neurosurgeon and newly-minted Republican frontrunner has raked in more than $23.1 million in small donations, 74 percent of what he’s raised so far. But the Times notes those dollars might not go quite as far: Carson is raising most of that money from mailers, which are more expensive than online fundraising. Last quarter alone, mailers cost the Carson campaign $3 million.

$2.88 million

That’s the total Donald Trump has raised from contributions under $200, which puts him near the lead for small donations. According his most recent Federal Election Commission filing, Trump — who had repeatedly touted a self-funded campaign and billions in the bank — accepted around 74,000 donations averaging $50. The campaign noted the contributions were unsolicited.

$4.2 million

Ted Cruz is something of an outlier in the GOP, the Times notes: of the $12.2 million he raised in small donations last quarter, $4.2 million came in online. He has a signature fundraising site called CruzCrowd, which encourages grassroots support by allowing users to pool their donations, crowdfunding style. So if one wanted to make a $4,000 donation on behalf of a student group, for example, one could solicit smaller donations and bundle them together. It’s worth noting that earlier in the year Cruz lead the field in super PAC donations of $1 million or more.

6 percent

Of the $133.3 million war chest Jeb Bush and his PACs have raised so far, just $1.5 came through small donations to the Bush campaign. Bush has among the smallest portion of small donations to his campaign — 6 percent, ahead of only Chris Christie and Jim Gilmore.

20 percent

Finally, Democratic frontrunner and establishment candidate Hillary Clinton raised slightly more than Sanders in the third quarter — $29.9 million to his $26.2 million — but she trails in small donations: just a fifth of the $77 million she’s raised so far has come from contributions under $200.

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