The DNC’s New Rules For Grassroots Campaign Finance

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While it’s true the “Third-Way” wing of the Democratic party is up to some of its old tricks trying to discredit progressives possibly flirting with 2020 White House runs, it is also true that in less than one week the new Democratic majority will take its seat in the House of Representatives.

Its first order of business is House Resolution (HR) 1, a collection of proposals intending to advance voting rights, reform campaign finance, and address corruption.

This is an indication the Democratic party is serious about confronting the assaults on democracy Republicans have made their stock and trade.

Even though progressive candidates like Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Beto O’Rourke frighten the pro-corporate establishment, it is because of their progressive agendas responsible for firing up millions in the base that the Democratic National Committee (DNC) is willing to make any changes at all.

Many thought Sen. Bernie Sanders’ candidacy was a joke.

Many believed that without a super political action committee (PAC) raising countless amounts of dollars in questionable donations, he would never make it past the Iowa caucus.

He proved them wrong.

According to Open SecretsSanders raised $134,669,942 in just small, individual contributions.

He proved what other candidates are now realizing can be done.

The 2018 mid-term election cycle set records, including those for grassroots contributions, something practically unheard of three years ago.

In response, DNC Chair Tom Perez announced recently that, in addition to standard polling rubrics required to join presidential primary debate, candidates will additionally be required to meet a “grassroots fundraising” criteria.

This will incentivize candidates to invest in the expanding small-donor base as well as compel potential billionaire candidates, like Michael Bloomberg, Tom Steyer, and Howard Schultz, who boast about being rich enough to fund their own campaigns, to generate popular enthusiasm among the base.

According to  of The Intercept:

“This is a remarkable decision for any political party, and it reflects a growing shift in how campaigns are run and won. It also previews what will be an important way to measure the success of candidates in the Democratic primary: not just looking at how much money candidates raise, but how much of their money comes from small-dollar donors.”

The DNC has not decided yet, though, how much constitutes a “small-dollar” amount.

The federal definition of an “unitemized” contribution is $200 or less.

There are loopholes candidates can exploit.

For example, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo reported 57 percent of his 2018 re-election campaign’s contributions stemmed from donations of $250 or less.

Those contributions, however, comprise one percent of the reporting period’s $6 million total.

One individual (a Cuomo campaign staffer’s roommate) donated 69 times–almost all in one-dollar increments.

 reports:

“In order for the ‘grassroots fundraising’ metric to be meaningful, the DNC must focus on the amount of small-donor money rather than the number of small-donor contributions raised, and even setting the bar as low as 15 or 20 percent of their total cash raised could force candidates to focus on small dollars.”

Below is a chart delineating contribution amounts for potential 2020 contenders who have filed federal fundraising reports and their respective races.

Candidate Committee Total Raised Unitemized Contributions (<$200) Percentage
Bernie Sanders 2018 Senate $12,561,473.98 $9,384,655.11 74.71%
Kamala Harris 2022 Senate $6,591,903.57 $4,906,438.63 74.43%
Elizabeth Warren 2018 Senate $30,652,544.13 $19,369,886.27 63.19%
Jeff Merkley 2022 Senate $3,443,186.53 $2,164,287.06 62.86%
Beto O’Rourke 2018 Senate $80,319,754.49 $36,861,722.22 45.89%
Tulsi Gabbard 2018 House $1,404,103.28 $532,401.97 37.92%
Joe Biden American Possibilities PAC $2,562,524.76 $879,845.92 34.34%
Kirsten Gillibrand 2018 Senate $20,800,733.76 $6,608,743.01 31.77%
Sherrod Brown 2018 Senate $25,608,242.88 $6,898,825.24 26.94%
Richard Ojeda 2018 House $2,850,434.08 $758,049.94 26.59%
Cory Booker 2020 Senate $7,676,915.64 $1,836,282.50 23.92%
Amy Klobuchar 2018 Senate $10,754,297.70 $2,413,680.09 22.44%
Joseph Kennedy III 2018 House $4,449,388.80 $812,432.40 18.26%
Tom Steyer Need to Impeach PAC $14,582,593.86 $1,271,735.07 8.72%
Eric Swalwell 2018 House $3,026,601.31 $212,750.36 7.03%
John Delaney 2020 Presidential $4,997,566.39 $35,575.54 0.71%

Credit: The Intercept

Although not a panacea, the fact the DNC is responding to the progressive base’s call for campaign finance reform is a positive step.

More voters will have the chance to speak with their wallets as well as their votes. This will hopefully reverse the trend of political candidates marginalizing constituents unable to match wealthy donors’ contributions.

Image credit: Flickr

Ted Millar is writer and teacher. His work has been in featured in myriad literary journals, including Better Than Starbucks, The Broke Bohemian, Straight Forward Poetry, Caesura, Circle Show, Cactus Heart, Third Wednesday, and The Voices Project. He is also a contributor to Op-Ed News, Liberal Nation Rising, and Zoedune.