This is my first diary.
Fundraising totals are in for the fourth quarter of 2015, and the leading Democratic candidates really knocked it out of the park. Hillary Clinton raised $37 million this quarter, bringing her total to $115 million. Impressively, Bernie Sanders’ small-donor powered campaign (with only several hundred people having given the maximum of $2700) nearly matched her, raising $33 million for a total of $73 million so far. Clinton’s burn rate is somewhat higher, leaving her with $38 million cash on hand to Bernie’s $28 million. Both appear to have out-raised any and all Republican candidates.
One particular difference between the campaigns has been generating attention on this site: Clinton raised $18 million dollars for the Democratic National Committee, to be used in the general election to support Democratic candidates, while it appears Bernie Sanders has raised none. This is causing some consternation, with supporters of Clinton claiming that Sanders is not holding up his end of the bargain and is not interested in helping the Democratic party, while Sanders supporters claim he was given no opportunity to fundraise and that there is no reason for him to work for an organization that has been working against him. The money goes into the Victory Fund, to be shared by the national and state parties for whomever gets nominations in 2016.
This diary will explore a few likely reasons why Sanders hasn’t raised money for the DNC like Clinton has, why this shouldn’t be too surprising, and why it’s not really a strike against him.
Sanders has not been invited to raise money in this way.
The first thing to do is to ask the Sanders campaign themselves what they think of the situation.
"We remain happy to work with them," Sanders spokesman Michael Briggs said Saturday, when asked about joint fundraising efforts. "The party hasn't given us any dates for events.
This makes sense given the behavior of the DNC so far—preach equality and impartiality in public, but focus on electing Hillary behind the scenes. It echoes other situations where the DNC and the Sanders campaign have tossed the blame back and forth—like when Debbie Wasserman-Schultz claimed the Sanders campaign hadn’t shown the DNC the info they needed to reinstate VAN access, and then Jeff Weaver held up his cell phone (~12:30) to the camera to show an email he had earlier sent to the DNC with the info they needed. It also reminds me of earlier comments by the campaign I can’t place, where they implied that the ball was in the DNC’s court and they were simply waiting for instructions that never came. To say the least, the two are not on the same page.
If he were invited, its doubtful he could make it work.
Clinton and Sanders have very different styles of raising money. Clinton headlines many ticketed events where patrons are often asked to pay a high price—sometimes the entire $2700 limit for one ticket—for the privilege of seeing her speak. By contrast, all of Bernie’s rallies are free and open to the public, and the campaign does not ask for donations at them, instead relying on strong online donations. He doesn’t schmooze with the elites and ask them for money, or attend blockbuster ticketed events with top-billing. He says his message, and if you like it you can go online and donate. In fact, the few times Sanders has attended paid fundraisers, he’s been treated like a hypocrite. It’s doubtful Sanders could solicit cash for the DNC the way Hillary has. His constituents donate online, and as you can find in his reddit community, people make a point of finding the service with the lowest overhead that delivers the most cash directly to Sanders. It seems unlikely, especially given the hard feelings many supporters have towards the DNC, that Sanders has much hope of raising any significant funds for them. The establishment Dems who support Hillary are more likely to support the DNC and donate to it. Additionally...
Hillary’s donors have a lot more money to give.
The average donation to the Sanders campaign is always changing but hovers around $27-30 dollars. Clinton, by contrast, typically doesn’t release her average, no doubt because it would be significantly higher. Instead she focuses on statistics about what percentage of her donations were small, or what percentage of her donors were women (though Bernie has more female donors in total), rather than the money itself. But it can’t conceal the fact that Hillary's donors give more, and more of them give the maximum amount. When your wealthy supporters have already given the most they legally can to you, what more is there to do? Donate to the DNC, which, if Hillary wins the nomination (and even if she doesn’t, given the DNC’s favoritism), is like donating to Hillary a second time. If Bernie were to headline a fundraiser for this crowd, would there even be anyone in the audience who supported him? Bernie hasn’t just been avoiding this type of event with the DNC—he’s been avoiding it, period, refusing to raise funds for himself through elite fundraisers.
Hillary has a super-PAC to help her out.
When you’re the wealthiest person in the race and you’ve raised more money than any other candidate, its not going to bring you down to take a little time and effort to raise money for the DNC. But its even easier to do this with the cushion of a super-PAC. Last quarter, Clinton raised $77 million and her super-PAC raised an additional $20 million, while Sanders raised $40 million and had no money from a super-PAC. While super-PACs cannot spend this money directly on candidate expenses, they are free to spend it on advertising. This saves Hillary Clinton $20 million dollars on ads that Bernie has to pull directly from his campaign funds. Since Clinton raised $18 million for the DNC, and since her super-PAC likely raised much more than $20 million this quarter, she’s got a big cushion for down-ticket fundraising that Bernie lacks. Her greater name recognition, and all the other advantages she enjoys, also give her more time to devote to party politicking. If Bernie takes time out of his schedule to fundraise for the DNC, it’s time he’s not spending meeting voters and getting his name and campaign out there. It’s also time he’s not spending in the Senate, where he has a full-time job and is one of the most active Senators. Its also important to note that Sanders has in fact helped other Democrats fundraise before, such as a letter for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee that helped bag $1 million.
The DNC has not been supportive of the Sanders campaign.
The DNC, headed by a former Clinton campaign co-chair, has needless to say been less than enthusiastic about Bernie’s candidacy. Most people understand by now that Debbie Wasserman Shultz has been improperly using her position to favor Hillary Clinton. There is the matter of the pathetically small number of debates, hidden during Saturday nights, holidays, and football games to lower viewership and protect Hillary. Two DNC co-chairs have already come out and said that they were not consulted about the schedule, meaning DWS lied to the public about consulting them. Then one of those co-chairs was disinvited from the debate as retribution.
Then there was the matter of “Datagate” and the DNC’s ham-fisted handling of the incident—running to the media before Bernie himself even heard about it, sharing info selectively with the Clinton campaign, locking the Sanders campaign out of their ability to even investigate the incident, and throwing a monkey-wrench into their fundraising and outreach right before a major debate. Regardless of the motivations of the Sanders’ staffer (who was recommended by the DNC), which very well may have been malicious, the DNC handled the incident in a way that should leave very little doubt where their loyalties lie. As a result, a DNC national committeewoman threatened to resign if Bernie’s VAN access was not restored, and a super-delegate from Nevada joined the Sanders campaign. Why should Sanders raise money for a group that hates him and wants to elect Clinton at any cost?
Sanders has virtually no support from elected Democrats.
Despite the support of roughly 30-35% of the Democratic electorate and major grassroots groups like the WFP and DFA, Sanders has the backing of only two Representatives and zero Senators, compared to literally hundreds who support Hillary Clinton. Even those who represent natural constituencies for Sanders have not endorsed him. Governors and Senators whose own electorates overwhelmingly support Sanders—such as Vermont politicians Howard Dean, Pete Shumlin, Madeline Kunin, and Patrick Leahy—have endorsed Clinton. Natural progressive allies whose agendas and rhetoric match Sanders’ agenda nearly perfectly—such as Bill DeBlasio and Sherrod Brown—have also endorsed Clinton. Clearly there is a disconnect between the party base and it’s elected officials, or we would see roughly 30% of them supporting Sanders. This is what people mean when they say their elected officials don’t represent them. No doubt there is massive top-down political pressure to endorse Clinton. Everyone knows that since she’s favored to win, if they want a seat at the table they need to support her—and that if they cross her, like Nina Turner did, they can expect to be slandered for stepping out of line.
Why should Sanders raise money to re-elect a group of people who don’t support him or his candidacy? Despite voting with the Democrats over 90% of the time and helping them secure major victories like Obamacare, Democratic Senators have repeatedly gone to the media to denounce him as a lightweight, an irritant, or a fickle ally (meanwhile, Republicans seem more willing to praise him). Some of them have even denounced the very concept of having a competitive primary. It makes little sense for Sanders to raise money for down-ballot Democrats who don’t want to see him elected.
Nominating Sanders will do more for down-ballot Democrats than all the DNC money in the world.
Those worried about the success of other Democrats in 2016—about retaking the Senate and making the House more even—should be concerned more about turnout on election day than the status of party fundraising. The Republicans are hyper-motivated to vote this year after eight years of what they consider to be oppression, the continuing collapse of white working-class America, and threatening social changes such as gay marriage. They already vote in higher numbers than Democrats, and you can bet that when they perceive their entire world to be on the line, they’re going to turn out. The Democrats need a candidate who can inspire high turnout, not only to win the presidency, but because in Congress, Dems lose when turnout is low.
Bernie Sanders is the candidate most likely to win in the general election—as new polls continue to show—meaning he is the most likely to score down-ballot victories for Democrats. This makes sense, because there are several demographic factors giving him an advantage. He has the overwhelming support of independents, whereas Hillary has lukewarm support from them at best, giving him a huge general election advantage. He also has crossover appeal to Republicans, earning up to 25% of their support in his home state. Already, numerous Republicans for Bernie have been documented. But Bernie is also best positioned to win because he will bring new voters to the polls, who are then likely to vote Democrat—the young, the poor, and the disillusioned. While it’s true that these groups only vote in low numbers, anyone who has been paying attention to the Sanders campaign should realize he has a better shot than anyone ever has had at getting them to turnout. And Bernie will also enjoy the support of the main Dem base, which has been growing with recent Demographic changes. Most Democrats, who seem more motivated by the fear of a Republican than the hope of nominating a great candidate, are not going to stop voting Democrat just because Bernie got the nomination.
Sanders is trying to transform the Democratic party, not preserve the status quo.
Sanders believes the Democratic party has drifted too far to the right in recent years (due in large part to the first Clinton and the Third Way) and abandoned the constituency that needs it most—the working class. It makes little sense for him to put his effort into fundraising for an organization whose disastrous 2014 plan for electing more Democrats under DWS was “distance yourself from Obama and his achievements.” Until the Democrats stop trying to imitate the Republicans, until they stop drifting rightward to counter them, and until they stop throwing the working class under the bus with trade agreements and corporatism, its not his party. Sanders knows he doesn’t belong in the current Democratic Party, but this election is a referendum on the future Democratic Party—will it be a centrist, corporatist, neoliberal organ of the wealthy, or will it be a democratic, representative, social, progressive party of the people?
And the existence of super-delegates in the Democratic primary should tell you how the DNC feels about the wisdom of the people.
That being said, Sanders could still make an effort to fundraise for the DNC.
Its never too late to make a change. Because Sanders will benefit from the Victory Fund if he gets the nomination, fairness would dictate that he contribute to it. And, because he’s said that he will not run as an independent and that we need to prevent a Republican from becoming president, its a good practical investment as well. Others have commented that if Sanders were a good leader, he would seek out and create opportunities to fundraise with the DNC rather than waiting for them to come to him. This seems like a valid criticism, though the bad blood of Datagate may keep this off the table. A party fundraiser also seems like an awkward place for him, and I’m not sure many people would even show up. One could argue that the entire Sanders candidacy is a rebuttal to this form of politicking—to gladhanding and baby-kissing, to expensive fundraisers with CEOs and bankers, to managed, scripted appearances to beg for cash, and to blind allegiance to the Party apparatus.
I don’t expect to see Sanders fundraising for the DNC anytime soon. And I’m not upset about it.