Small-dollar donations help Biden raise millions while some wealthy donors remain on the sidelines


Joe Biden and the Democrats have been hauling in record fundraising totals ever since he won a landslide of primaries during Super Tuesday in March, which helped propel him to become the party’s presumptive nominee for president.

Much of that success is due to small-dollar donors. Biden’s campaign announced Monday that it, along with the Democratic National Committee, raised over $80 million in May, a historic amount, with an average donation of $30. As noted on Twitter by Biden’s deputy campaign manager, Rufus Gifford, the total surpassed President Barack Obama’s 2012 May haul and Hillary Clinton’s final amount over the same time period when she ran for president in 2016.  

Yet some bundlers working the fundraising circuit for Biden have started noticing that some big-money donors in their networks have been absent in recent weeks, according to people with knowledge of the matter. They declined to be named as these fundraising efforts are made in private.

Some influential donors remain too busy with their own businesses in dealing with the coronavirus. Others are not yet sold on Biden’s candidacy and are waiting to see whom he picks as his running mate. 

“We don’t have every big donor already in, but many are, and we continue to recruit,” said one active Biden fundraiser. Another pointed to how some financiers had stronger relationships with past candidates, such as the Clintons, but said eventually they’ll all fall in line.  

“The biggest donors have money to give — but they just had a much longer history and connection to [the Clintons],” another fundraiser said. “They will get more active, especially after a VP is announced.” 

Others, such as Ken Jarin, a partner at Ballard Spahr who is fundraising for Biden, say that they haven’t struggled with getting support from wealthier donors and that it’s a combination with support at the grassroots level giving the former vice president a recent run of success. 

“There is tremendous enthusiasm both at a grassroots level and with higher level donors and raisers,” Jarin said, while noting a recent virtual event that he co-hosted with former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell and others, raised $1.6 million. “We raised from $500 to $50,000. Virtually no one I reached out to turned me down.” 

While support from big-money players has been inconsistent, Biden has had to rely on a large number of small-dollar supporters in order to keep up with Trump’s financial war chest. So far, it has worked out for the former vice president.

The Biden campaign alone raised close to $42 million in April, with a little over $16 million, or 37%, coming from small donations, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. President Donald Trump, on the other hand, saw $9 million of almost $16 million come from donors giving less than $200. Those totals do not include the respective campaigns’ combined efforts with the DNC and the Republican National Committee or the amounts that have been raised by super PACs supporting either candidate. 

Biden has been ahead of Trump in most national polls, with a Real Clear Politics polling average showing the commander in chief down by close to seven points in the wake of his response to the coronavirus pandemic and nationwide protests following the death of George Floyd. Biden’s campaign has seen a surge of donor support since the Floyd protests started in late May. 

Last week, a fundraiser featuring Sen. Kamala Harris, which featured tickets starting at $500 and going up to $100,000, sold out and ended up bringing in $3.5 million for Biden and the DNC. That event saw a surge in support from small-dollar donors, even from those who couldn’t attend.  

A fundraiser helping raise cash for the event said there were hundreds of contributions from donations ranging from $5 to $25 from supporters who were willing to contribute for the event but did not participate. This person has already helped raise just over $3,000 for another Harris event on Thursday by selling $250 tickets. 

Obama himself will be hosting a virtual grassroots fundraiser on June 23, allowing contributors to donate any amount they want in order to participate. 

A source of future big money may be coming from what was once deemed an unexpected source: Sen. Elizabeth Warren. 

A virtual fundraiser on Monday featuring Warren raised $6 million for the Biden Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee between Biden’s campaign and the DNC. There were 620 people in attendance. Tickets for that event started at $250 and went up to $100,000. When she ran for president, Warren was a staunch advocate of her campaign being funded by grassroots donations and shunned taking part in private donor events. 

The gathering proves that while some establishment donors are still uncommitted to Biden, other wealthy progressive contributors are following Warren’s lead after she endorsed the presumptive nominee in April.  Biden addressed Warren’s efforts to raise money at the fundraiser Monday.

“Thank you for asking your friends to help me out. It’s the biggest fundraiser we’ve ever had. And it’s all because of you,” he said. 

Both Warren and Harris are reportedly being vetted by Biden’s VP search committee. Former Obama national security advisor Susan Rice, Rep. Val Demings and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms are also reportedly on the shortlist. 

Bundlers say that some donors who have the ability to give six-figure checks have sometimes been on the sidelines since the start of the summer, while the pandemic has hit the economy and executives have struggled to find the time to raise cash for Biden. There are other factors, these people added, as to why wealthy donors, who can now give just over $620,000 to a joint fundraising committee that raises money for the campaign and the Democratic National Committee, are staying quiet on Biden. 

Some say that the party donors aren’t sold yet on Biden’s candidacy and are waiting out the summer months to give to him, one of the people said. Others said that wealthy financiers are waiting to see who Biden selects as his running mate, with many pressuring his team not to select Warren, who is a staunch critic of big business.

Another explained that some wealthy donors have yet to hear from Biden or his aides to ask for their help and have taken that as a sign that they don’t need to immediately get involved. 

Still, campaigns over the last few election cycles have evolved in focusing their efforts on raising small-dollar contributions and less on searching for larger contributions. 

Four years ago, Clinton’s campaign and her supportive super PACs finished raising over $769 million, with 52% of those contributions coming from donations over $200, according to data from CRP. Only 18% of those total donations were worth less than $200. That same cycle, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Clinton’s main primary opponent, raised close to 57% of his campaign funds off small-dollar contributions. Obama in 2012 raised nearly half of his money on smaller contributions as well. 

A spokesman for Biden did not respond to a request for comment. 

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