Minds are being blown this morning as Bernie Sanders announced a staggering fourth quarter fundraising haul of $34.5 million, which is the largest of any Democrat this campaign, and the fourth-largest quarterly primary haul ever (even topping anything Obama managed in the 2008 campaign). And the overall number alone doesn’t tell the story of how robust his operation has become. Per CBS:
The average donation was $18.53, and 99.9% of his donors have not maxed out their donations to Sanders…
According to the campaign, 40,000 new donors contributed on the last day of the year. In December alone, it raised more than $18 million from over 900,000 donations, making it the campaign’s best fundraising month to date.
There a few other interesting facts here. First, Sanders reached 5 million individual donations for the entire campaign on Jan. 1, which not only tops any of his primary opponents (by far), but also Trump’s re-election campaign. Even more remarkably, it beats his own total from this time in the last campaign, when he raised $33 million in the fourth quarter of 2015. That race was fundamentally between two candidates by that point (give or take a lurking O’Malley), where this year’s race remains crowded a month before Iowa.
Finally, it’s worth noting the way he’s raising the money. As noted, it’s the fourth-largest quarterly number in a primary ever, with the top three spots all belonging to Hillary Clinton. But Clinton’s money largely came from big donors—of all the money she received in the 2016 campaign cycle, only 18.58% came from individual donations of less than $200. Even before the fourth quarter, that number was 57.85% for Sanders, and his average donation this time around, as noted, was $18.53.
The best comparison this year is to Pete Buttigieg, who released his own quarterly totals on Wednesday. Considering the fact that nobody knew who he was before this year and the general newness of his campaign, his total of $24.7 million is very impressive on the surface. His average donation was about $34, already almost doubling Sanders’s total, but it comes with an asterisk. From CNN:
As 2019 drew to a close, Buttigieg’s campaign also sought to emphasize small-dollar donations by staging a competition in which donors could challenge one another to contribute the smallest amount. Critics argued it was a gimmick to drive down his average donation amount.
In other words, he’s trying to fake his way into being Bernie Sanders. The truth is that he became a Wall Street darling by backing off of progressive policy earlier this year, and he’s raising most of his money from large dollar donations (“Wine Cave” style money). Wall Street has been “swooning” for him since the summer, and he’s trying to hide it. The point is that with friends like those, it’s easy to raise big money (though it puts Buttigieg in the precarious position of having to curry favor with Wall Street while playing the people’s candidate to keep his not-insignificant small donations coming…a very Republican conundrum).
But even with that disadvantage, Sanders managed to lay waste to to the field, out-raising even his nearest competitor to date (we still don’t have data from Biden or Warren, though Warren is likely to fall well short of Buttigieg) while relying on teachers and union members and minimum wage workers.
We don’t exactly know how this fundraising power and organizational capacity will translate in the early primary states, but we do know that this is one of the true grassroots campaigns in modern American history, and it has real muscle behind it.