With eye on 2020, can Beto O’Rourke repeat record-smashing fundraising?

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After months of mulling the decision, including a highly-publicized solo road trip through the Midwest as he went “in and out of a funk”, unsuccessful Senate candidate and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) confirmed to a local Texas station that he plans to run for president. O’Rourke skyrocketed to national attention and emerged as a Democratic favorite in 2018 as his quixotic bid to unseat Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) came close to succeeding.

While a formal announcement is yet to be set, O’Rourke will likely join the rest of the Democratic candidates in renouncing corporate PAC money — a position he took during his Senate run. What the central policy tenets of his campaign are remain to be seen.

Emerging as a unique politician who mastered the ins-and-outs of social media, O’Rourke built a sizable national following during his failed Senate run by using Instagram Live to livestream daily life. His background as a former member of punk rock bands also endeared himself to younger fans. The son of a powerful El Paso, Texas politician, O’Rourke won election to the El Paso City Council in 2005 and served there until his election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2012.

Little touched upon during his hyped Senate run, but may prove a liability in the Democratic primary, is O’Rourke’s mixed voting record. In the 115th Congress, O’Rourke voted with President Trump 30 percent of the time, a much higher rate than many of his primary rivals. He cosponsored a bill in 2013 repealing a Consumer Finance Protection Bureau directive, along with taking votes that sided with Republicans on oil and gas drilling, Wall Street regulation and other issues. He was a member of the pro-business, moderate New Democrat Coalition in the House.    

O’Rourke may be one of the best fundraisers running for president in 2020, spending a record-smashing $79 million in 2018. In terms of candidate spending, it was the most expensive congressional election ever.

With the growing importance of female involvement in Democratic politics, O’Rourke was especially successful in raising money from female contributors. In the 2017-2018 time frame, 48 percent, almost $21.4 million, of the itemized individual contributions coded for gender to his campaign came from female donors.  

He renounced corporate PAC donations and received the bulk of his funds from individual contributions, more than $36.8 million coming from small donors. PACs, including other candidate committees, still did contribute $83,441 or just 0.11 percent of his total contributions. Prior to his Senate run, O’Rourke had collected $133,008 from business PACs, which include trade associations, in his career dating back to 2011.

O’Rourke is no stranger to outside spending, especially during the Senate contest. While outside money overall favored Cruz, outside groups dropped more than $1.6 million in O’Rourke’s support, along with $3.1 million in opposition to Cruz. The O’Rourke-backing Texas Forever Super PAC spent just over $2.3 million on the election. Texas Forever was a “pop-up PAC,” which avoided disclosing its donors until after the election by forming after the last deadline for reporting passed. Texas Organizing Project, a 501(c) spent $414,786 in support of O’Rourke, while not disclosing its donors.     

The interest group which supported O’Rourke the most in his Senate campaign were retirees who contributed almost $5 million. Lawyers/law firms were next and gave around $3.2 million. His third-biggest industry, education with $2.8 million, contained his largest contributor — individuals from the University of Texas who gave $424,596 and are also his largest all-time contributor. Alphabet Inc, Google affiliates, was his second biggest all-time contributor.

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