Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez is setting new standards for Democratic candidates in the next election cycle. To step on the debate floor, potential candidates will have to meet a to-be-determined amount of grassroots donations, giving new importance to small donors, per The Intercept. Even one-time Democratic darlings like Beto O’Rourke have been spoiled after a look at where their campaign money comes from. But with this small donor entrance fee, those candidates will not only be held accountable, but also forced to answer questions about why they’re taking money and from whom.
This isn’t just a gentle push—it’s a requirement to even be considered to run for president and stand on the debate stage. That means if candidates want to meet the donation minimum, they’ll be forced to turn their attention away from oil and pharmaceutical companies, and make themselves beholden to the people who actually matter. They’ll make legislation based on the people, not on the paycheck. To inspire constituents to write a check, candidates will have to actually be candid about their goals and how they hope to achieve them.
This change would weed out a lot of recently elected politicians. Of the representatives elected in 2018, only Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and John Lewis raised an outright majority of campaign money from small donors, while a dismal eight others pulled in 31 percent or more from grassroots donations. If the minimum is set at a number as significant as this, the resulting waves could be huge. It just needs to be done right.
As New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo showed us, there are ways to make your working class support look more significant than it actually is. In July, Cuomo boasted that 57 percent of his contributions came from contributions of $250 or less, which would be respectable if you never looked at who gave the majority of those gifts, or how much of the grand total that represents. Reports found that one person, a roommate of a campaign staffer, provided 69 of those small donations, each in $1 increments. Even if that weren’t the case, context overshadows that 57 percent. It turns out that grassroots donations accounted for a single percent of Cuomo’s $6 million total, meaning he’s not kept up at night when his constituency is upset with him.
Perez’s move is as much a show of good faith as it is a requirement, though. Trump, famous for his motley MAGA crew, has small donors to thank for 53 percent of his 2016 campaign funds. No smoke or mirrors—53 percent, including Trump’s donations to himself, came from grassroots contributions. As we’ve seen over the past few years, his base is everything to him. He won because he was able to turn out more voters, all vehement about his cause. Trump knows that. When he almost agreed to sign a budget without border wall funding, his constituency lit him up and, as ridiculously frustrating as it is, he’s listening to them. It’s for a disgusting cause, but it’s the type of accountability we want in a politician.
Whoever hopes to rival Trump on the Democratic ballot is going to need that fire from their own constituency. With Perez’s grassroots donation requirement, he’s forcing candidates to think seriously about how they’re going to genuinely connect with voters and turn them into donors. Perez is helping them out in that regard. Since candidates will need to be more upfront about their campaign funds, it’ll be easy to see who’s being honest about their platforms, who’s being slid checks under the table and who refuses to give up their precious, precious Super PAC money. Voters will be able to ensure that their hard-earned donations are going toward a candidate who needs it, not one who already has millions stowed away and only treats grassroots donations as a talking point.