News. Debate. Community. Levers for a better democracy.

Asserting small-donor surge, Trump expands presidential money pool

There's a newly bipartisan dimension to the vast pool of presidential campaign cash, the ever-expanding ocean of money that's cited more often than anything as a root cause of our democracy's travails.

What's different this year, however, is how small-dollar gifts are dominating the deposits in so many of the top-tier candidates' bank accounts – and vying for attention with the donations from millionaires and corporate interests engendering sustained worries about the pay-to-play aspects of American government.

President Trump's reelection campaign is the latest to boast of a huge trove of small donations. Today it reported a haul of $30 million in the first quarter of this year, 99 percent of it in gifts of $200 or less. The average gift has been $34 and money came between January and March from more than 100,000 people who'd never given to Trump before.

Most of the money so far has been raised by the Trump Make America Great Again Committee, a digital fundraising operation focused on small-money donors, often recurring donations that's known in Trump's political world as "T-Magic." The committee has singlehandedly reversed what has been a Democratic advantage in the world of online fundraising ever since it was invented in the early years of this century.

But that sort of giving cannot possibly bring the campaign to its $1 billion fundraising target for 2020, and so this summer a second entity, Trump Victory, will launch a traditional "bundling" program, in which generous donors are recruited to find similarly magnanimous givers among their friends and business associates.

Trump – who gave or loaned $66 million to his 2016 campaign, but has yet to spend any of his own money on 2020 – "is in a vastly stronger position at this point than any previous incumbent president running for reelection," campaign manager Brad Parscale boasted.

In part, that's because he's got the Republican donor base essentially to himself, while more than a dozen Democratic presidential aspirants were raising money in the first quarter. Trump, for example, raised as much as the top two of his potential general election rivals, combined.

Altogether, Democrats have so far reported to the Federal Election Commission a combined $66 million in first-quarter fundraising from more than 1 million different people. Several of the candidates have not filed their reports, which are due at the end of the day: Here are the totals reported so far:

  • Bernie Sanders: $18.2 million
  • Kamala Harris: $12 million
  • Beto O'Rourke: $9.4 million
  • Pete Buttigieg: $7 million
  • Elizabeth Warren: $6 million
  • Amy Klobuchar: $5.2 million
  • Cory Booker: $5 million
  • Kirsten Gillibrand: $3 million
  • John Delaney: $12.1 million (but only $400,000 from donors other than the candidate)
  • Andrew Yang: $1.7 million
News. Community. Debate. Levers for better democracy.

Sign up for The Fulcrum newsletter.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Computer company Hewlett Packard received a perfect score from the index for its policies on political spending disclosure.

Big companies disclosing more could-be-secret political spending, analysis shows

An increasing number of the country's largest publicly traded companies are disclosing more than ever about political spending habits that the law permits them to keep secret.

That's the central finding of the fifth annual report from a group of academics and corporate ethicists, who say the average score among the biggest companies traded on American exchanges, the S&P 500, has gone up each year since 2014.

Though corporate political action committees must disclose their giving to candidates, those numbers are very often dwarfed by the donations businesses make to the trade associations and other outside groups that have driven so much of the steady rise in spending on elections. Conservatives say robust disclosure of these behaviors is the best form of regulating money in politics and is working fine, and this new report reflects that. Those who say campaign finance needs more assertive federal regulation will argue such corporate transparency is inconsistent and inadequate to the task, and the new report underscores that.

Keep reading... Show less
Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon is joined by fellow Democratic members of the House and Senate this summer to discuss legislation that would attempt to prevent hacking into the country's election systems. Intelligence officials announced late last week an outline for how to release information about possible hacks during the 2020 elections.

Intel community promising more transparency about election hacking efforts

A year from the presidential election, U.S. intelligence agencies have adopted a new framework for how they will inform candidates, groups and the public about attempts to disrupt our country's elections by foreign operatives.

But the one-page summary of the plan, released late last week, is so general that it remains unclear what the intelligence community plans to do if and when it discovers something suspicious.

The summary by the director of national intelligence states that the federal government will "follow a process and principles designed to ensure, to the greatest extent possible, that notification decisions are consistent, well-informed and unbiased."

The new framework is designed to prevent a repeat of some of what happened after the 2016 election.

Keep reading... Show less