October 24, 2020

Election 2020: Biden, Trump Fundraising Down the Stretch

By Kate Perschke

With the presidential election 10 days away, the Biden and Trump campaigns are in the final stages of fundraising and spending. 

Vice President Joe Biden and the Democratic National Committee have raised $1.51 billion to President Donald Trump and the Republican National Committee’s $1.57 billion, according to committee filings with the Federal Election Commission.

A recent poll from the Pew Research Center suggests that at least 63% of Biden supporters view their vote as a vote against Trump rather than a vote for Biden. In contrast, only 29% of Trump supporters view their vote as a vote against Biden. The latest national polls position Biden 10 points ahead of Trump, a lead that is mirrored in the current campaign financial reports.

This election is the most expensive yet, data show. The Center for Responsive Politics reported  that the 2020 election will near $11 billion, 50 percent higher than the cost of the 2016 election. Spending is expected to nearly double from normal election cycles, rounding to $5.2 billion.

Sheila Krumholtz, executive director of the CRP said in an Oct. 1 statement, “This is already the most expensive presidential election in history and there are still months of election spending to account for. The unanswered question is whether this will be the new normal for future elections.”

Small-dollar donors are showing up in historic numbers this election

Small-dollar donors, individuals who contribute $200 or less to a campaign, have made up 22% of all contributions in the 2020 election, a figure that has increased from 14% in the 2016 election, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Small-dollar donors have become increasingly important campaign funders in the recent presidential elections, with President Obama’s 2008 primary campaign raising $21.5 million from contributions of $200 or less alone. 

This election year, small-dollar donors have contributed at historic numbers. At the end of August, the Trump and Biden campaigns saw 43% and 42% from small-dollar donors, respectively. 

Through Oct. 14, the Trump and Biden campaigns are seeing 77% and 39% in small donations, respectively. This is drastically different from the 2016 election, where small-dollar donors accounted for 18% to 25% of nominee contributions.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont) revived the importance of small-dollar donors in 2016, and once again in 2020, with tactics such as asking for $27 donations and using taglines like “paid for Bernie (not the billionaires).” Small-dollar donors have become a campaign secret weapon, with the Sanders’s campaign raising $46.9 million from small-dollar donors over the course of the 2020 primary. 

Other Democratic primary candidates saw large portions of their contributions come from small donors; Elizabeth Warren, 57%; Amy Klobuchar, 45%; and Kamala Harris, 40%.

Nicole Mattson, an undergraduate student at the University of Illinois at Chicago, explained why she donated $17 to the Biden-Harris campaign: “I donated to Kamala before the [vice presidential] debate because [the campaign] kept emailing me to donate… probably 10 emails a day. They wanted to reach 300,000 donations before the debate and I wanted to contribute.”

“I wish I could donate more,” Mattson added, citing the importance of defeating Trump and controlling the coronavirus pandemic in the US.

The coronavirus pandemic has significantly changed the presidential election in many facets, but especially in terms of money. The Biden campaign embraced the virtual sphere and was quick to take on a digital outreach strategy, focusing on calls, texts, and email campaigns. 

Darci Outlaw, a healthcare professional in Chicago, donated $110 to the Biden Harris campaign. “This is my first donation to a presidential campaign. I feel this is the most important election of my lifetime. I believe this election is about morality … bringing people together.”

In response to Biden’s digital campaign strategy, Outlaw said, “The one thing that is annoying, everyday I receive a text asking for more money.”

Biden’s digital strategy has been working, with his campaign passing the Trump campaign’s cash advantage at the end of August.

The Trump campaign has stuck to traditional means of voter outreach by continuing to canvas in person. Trump’s first virtual fundraiser was in July, after a three-month hiatus from campaign events. The campaign reported the event raised $20 million by 300,000 individuals.

Super PACS, Big Money

Historically, the largest parts of campaign contributions come from political action committees (PACs). While small-dollar contributions are a significantly large portion of this year’s campaign finances, both Biden and Trump campaigns have money coming from super PACS, billionaires, hedge funds, and large corporations. 

The Biden campaign’s largest super PAC contributor is Sixteen Thirty Fund, which has contributed $18,966,655 to the Biden campaign. The Sixteen Thirty Fund’s mission includes tax fairness, health care, and welfare.

The Trump campaign’s largest super PAC is Las Vegas Sands Corporation, a  resort developer that has raised $37 million. However, the most notable super PAC is America First, which has launched political advertisements in battleground states.

On Oct. 9, America First released a $10 million ad in Pennsylvania criticizing Biden’s plan to raise taxes on businesses. It featured maskless small-business owners in a bar talking about how Biden’s plan would harm their livelihood. 

A Look into Primary Finances

Trump launched his reelection campaign over the summer of 2018, allotting him a one year advantage over Biden and the other Democrat candidates. With the reelection campaign having raised $1.57 billion, Trump and the RNC are raising funds better than his 2016 race, where at this point the campaign had raised around $950 million, setting a Republican fundraising record both cycles.

From August 2019 to March 2020, Trump was raising $130 million to $230 million and spending $75 million to $145 million, significantly more than Biden. In the first seven-month stretch, the Biden campaign was raising $22 million to $88 million and spending $11 million to $75 million, according to FEC data found on ProPublica’s FEC Itemizer.

Up until April when Sanders ended his bid for president, Biden was competing with 20 other Democratic candidates and raising significantly less in some months. From August 2019 to March 2020, Biden was polling along frontrunners Warren and Sanders within a few percentage points.

Fundraising and Spending Speed up as Election Day Approaches

August saw the Biden campaign committee raise $212 million compared to the Trump campaign committee’s $61 million. The Biden campaign broke records with this sum, surpassing the amounts that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama had raised at this point in their respective presidential races.

The campaign saw a surge of contributions following the announcement of running mate, Harris, reporting $48 million in contributions within two days of the vice president pick. 

Choosing Harris as Biden’s running mate was a historic moment in U.S. history, as it is the first time that a woman of color is on a major party ticket. This pick also has been criticized, with Harris’ controversial history as a “top cop” being in stark contrast to the national cry to defund the police in wake of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Both Trump and Biden saw surges in contributions following the Democratic and Republican National Conventions. Trump and the GOP reportedly raised $76 million, and had 21.7 million viewers despite the multiple changes in plans due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Biden campaign and joint committees announced it had raised $70 million over the four-day convention, and had over 122 million viewers across platforms.

The Next 10 Days are Crucial

The month of September reported the Biden committee raising and spending more than the Trump committee. Biden raised $281.6 million and spent $284.9 million while Trump raised $81.3 million and spent $139.2 million.

Biden’s campaign also claimed the fundraising advantage in the first half of October, raising $130 million to the Trump campaign’s $43 million. The Biden campaign also gained the cash on hand advantage with $162 million, crushing the Trump campaign’s $43 million.

Both campaigns have begun filing F6 forms — 48-hour notices of contributions over one thousand dollars. From Oct. 17 to 22, Trump has reported contributions totaling $9.3 million compared to Biden’s reported $1.9 million.

Following the final presidential debate on Oct. 22, the Trump and Biden campaigns expected to raise significant amounts of money. ActBlue, a democratic super PAC reported raising $4 million during the debate. The Trump campaign reported they raised $26 million on the day of the debate, alongside the RNC.

With 10 days until Election Day, fundraising and spending are expected to increase as the candidates try to secure their win of the presidency.

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