Small donors bolstering 2020 Democrats, pro-Trump Republicans

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Senator Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have proven to be two of the best fundraisers among small donors. (J Pat Carter for the Washington Post)

Small donors, one of the most sought-after fundraising demographics for modern political candidates, are already contributing millions toward 2020 candidates.

Unsurprisingly, presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is the small donor champion thus far. Through the first quarter of 2019, Sanders has collected almost $15.3 million from unitemized contributions, those under $200 — good for 74 percent of his total.

In terms of percentage of small donors, the winner so far is Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) who has collected 81.5 percent ($590,880) of her total $725,316 from small contributions. Popularly known as AOC, the freshman representative has built a major national following through her social media use and has eschewed big money donors.

Another online phenom, Democratic presidential candidate and entrepreneur Andrew Yang also has a significant amount of small donor support — $1.4 million, or 81 percent, of the $1.8 million he raised in the first quarter.

Other than Yang and Sanders, South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg (64 percent) and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) (almost 60 percent) received the highest percentage of their overall contributions from small donors among the Democratic presidential candidates.

Several Republicans also raised a majority of their contributions from small donors. One of the leading members of the Tea Party Caucus, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) had 63 percent ($301,728) of his campaign cash come from donations under $200. Despite courting controversy, or perhaps because of it, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) saw small donors make up 61 percent ($98,537) of his funds so far. Another controversial figure currently suing Twitter, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) still receives significant support from the people — small donors made up nearly 59 percent ($712,666) of his funds.

Gaetz and Nunes aren’t the only controversial House members to post strong small donor percentages. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), who has been criticized for using what has been perceived as anti-Semitic language, raised more than half of her campaign funds ($414,556) from small donors in the first quarter.

Who raised the most total dollars from small donors?

In terms of total amounts from small donors, excluding candidates who raised in special elections, the best performing non-presidential candidate so far is Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) who raised a substantial $3.2 million for his safely Democratic seat. Small-dollar contributions made up almost 58 percent of all the money he raised so far. Merkley even out-performed some of the 2020 candidates, including Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.), in both total amount and percentage.

In what will likely be one of the most-watched Senate races in 2020 between Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) and former astronaut Mark Kelly, a Democrat, small donor support is significant. Kelly raised $1.5 million from small donors so far, while McSally has notched $704,337.

Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) also performed well among small donors, collecting slightly more than $1 million. Even though it passed the million mark, small donors didn’t make up a majority of Durbin’s overall cash — only around 29 percent.

The list of biggest raisers of small donor cash is comprised mostly of Democratic candidates. In the top 20 for total raised from small donors, excluding special election candidates, only five candidates are Republicans. The success and prevalence of ActBlue, a fundraising platform created for Democrats, likely adds to their ability to reach small donors. Despite efforts by Republicans, they have yet to create an online donor platform as popular.

The top GOP recipient, seventh place overall, is President Donald Trump with nearly $4 million. Although he raised 13 percent from small donors, that does not include transfers from Trump’s joint fundraising committee, as the methodology only includes small donor contributions directly to his campaign committee. Make America Great Again brought in more than $17 million from small donors to start 2019 and transferred $20 million to Trump’s campaign.

The only four Republicans to join Trump in the top 20 total raised were House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) with $911,923, Nunes, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) with $766,821 and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) with $774,745. Scalise, Cotton and Graham are running in safe seats in 2020. Their small donors make up a small portion of their fundraising — only 37 percent for Scalise, around 16 percent for Cotton and 13 percent for Graham.

On the other end of the spectrum, some candidates, mostly those in safe districts or long-time incumbents, have received nearly nothing from small dollar donors. For instance, Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-Mo.) raised a total of $326,283 in the first quarter, with none of that coming from small donors. Another entrenched incumbent who has been in Congress since 1981, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) received just $185 from small donors, good for 0.1 percent of his first quarter total.

For a more comprehensive look at how various politicians compare, check out the Center for Responsive Politics’ Large Versus Small Individual Donations page.

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