67°F
weather icon Clear

Dem hopefuls spend big to draw small-dollar donors — or drop out

WASHINGTON — Montana Gov. Steve Bullock was told how he could qualify for the next presidential debate, but it didn’t make much sense: Spend $60. Attract a $1 donor. And repeat, maybe thousands of times.

“You spend $60 on Facebook right now to get a $1 donor,” Bullock said last week while campaigning in Iowa , referring to the 130,000 donor threshold that is one of the requirements to reach the debate stage in Houston next month. “I don’t know if I’ll make the threshold.”

He’s not alone. Facing a Wednesday deadline, a handful of Democratic White House hopefuls are racing against time — and odds — to qualify, trying desperately to meet the donor targets as well as reaching 2% in four approved public opinion polls.

New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is pumping millions into online and TV advertising. Billionaire climate change activist Tom Steyer, a late entry to the race, has also spent $3.8 million on Facebook ads trying to boost his name recognition and rapidly add donors.

Others simply gave up — or dropped out.

Time running short

In a still-crowded Democratic field , with time increasingly running out to break into the top tier of candidates, not qualifying for the debate could doom several candidacies. Still, many have vowed to forge on, hoping that they can reach the requirements before the following debate in October.

“We’re getting to the cutoff point for a lot of lower-tier candidates ,” said Tim Lim, a digital strategist and fundraiser who worked on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign. “Folks who are in the bottom half right now, unless they start deficit spending I don’t know how they are going to do it.”

Though earlier debates had lower floors, the Democratic National Committee upped the stakes for the coming two. As of now, 10 candidates have reached the qualifying thresholds on donors and polling. If that holds, the September debate would be the first of the cycle held on a single night.

The DNC designed the requirements to bring order to an unwieldy field of more than 20 White House hopefuls, while elevating the role of online grassroots donors who are among the party’s most fervent supporters. And in some ways they’ve succeeded. But for those candidates who have fallen short, there is an emerging sense of bitterness.

Millions for Facebook

“It forces campaigns to (hand) over millions of dollars to Facebook — the same platform that let the Russians interfere in 2016,” said Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, who won’t make the September stage and plans to campaign in early voting states instead. “If we wanted to be the party that excluded people, we’d be Republicans.”

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton all recently ended their campaigns as they struggled to qualify. Last quarter, Inslee spent more than the $3 million he raised, much of it funneled into Facebook ads, pleading for donors. He hit the donor mark, but lagged in polling and dropped out last week.

Gillibrand struggles, but spends

Other than Steyer, no one has spent more than Gillibrand to qualify. She’s struggled since entering the race to gain traction and is keeping her campaign afloat with a $9.6 million transfer from her Senate campaign fund.

During the last fundraising quarter she spent almost twice what she raised, records show. Now she’s plunging even more money into advertising, including a $1.6 million TV ad buy in Iowa and New Hampshire aimed at boosting her polling. She’s also spent roughly $2.1 million on Facebook ads aimed to get new donors over the last 90 days, making her the No. 3 political spender on the platform, behind only President Donald Trump and Steyer during that time, spending data shows.

“I want to be on the next presidential debate stage but I don’t have enough supporters,” Gillibrand says in one recent ad. “Please go to KirstenGillibrand.com. You just have to give $1.”

Last week, her campaign announced it had reached the 115,000 donor mark. They are holding out hope that that the three needed polls — which may not even exist — will be released before Wednesday.

“We expect more polls to be released … and that Kirsten will qualify for the third debate,” said spokeswoman Meredith Kelly. “Kirsten is working hard, traveling and investing on television to be on the stage, so that her voice can be heard.”

Payday for consultants

Though the rules have helped deplete some candidates’ campaign accounts, they’ve yielded a massive payday for Democratic consultants, with some online fundraising programs costing as much as $90 per dollar raised, campaign aides say. About two dozen consulting firms have collected at least $25 million in payments for online and digital-related services, according to an analysis of campaign finance data that tracked payments made between January and the end of June, when the last fundraising quarter ended. Rates do vary, though, and the appeal of the candidate is an obvious factor in fundraising success.

While it’s hard to tell whether the campaigns would have spent that much without the rules, there is a discernable trend line that shows many candidates increased their spending as the first set of debates in June neared — and trailed off once they qualified.

Tara McGowan, the founder and CEO of ACRONYM, a progressive group that specializes in digital campaigns, said some campaigns need to take a hint.

“You just hope people gain some sense and don’t want to be on this slog,” she said.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Politics Videos
Tomi Lahren Speaks at UNLV - VIDEO
Fox News contributor and UNLV alumna Tomi Lahren returned to campus Wednesday night for a speech, titled “Stay Triggered,” that drew an auditorium of supporters as well as a group of protesters outside. (James Schaeffer/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bernie Sanders released from Las Vegas hospital - VIDEO
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., issues a statement after he was released from Desert Springs Hospital Medical Center on Friday, Oct. 4, 2019, after suffering a heart attack earlier in the week. (Bernie Sanders via Twitter)
Democratic presidential candidates speak on impeachment - VIDEO
Democratic presidential candidates attending the March for Our Lives/Giffords Gun Safety Forum in Las Vegas comment on possible impeachment proceedings. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Joe Biden Las Vegas Rally Highlights - Video
2020 presidential candidate, Joe Biden, came to Las Vegas to talk guns, climate change and the Ukranian-Trump scandal. Biden was interrupted by a protestor who sat amongst supporters at the rally and continued with his speech. (Angus Kelly & James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Joe Biden comments on Trump and his campaign efforts in Nevada - Video
After an impeachment inquiry was opened on Donald Trump, Joe Biden talks with Review-Journal politics reporter Rory Appleton about Trump and his campaign in Nevada. (Angus Kelly & James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bernie Sanders Unveils Affordable Housing Plan - Video
Bernie Sanders sits down with the Las Vegas Review-Journal to talk about his new affordable housing plan he unveiled at Plumbers & Pipefitters.
Jim Marchant talks gun control and Dreamers - Video
Republican Candidate for District 4 Jim Marchant talks about gun control and immigration policies. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Hurricanes, Gender, and Science in the Press
Imagine if the mainstream media’s current hurricane-sized obsession with scientific accuracy applied to gender.
Cory Booker on college tuition and minimum wage
Cory Booker talks on the RJ Politics podcast about college debt, informing workers about their rights and livable wages.
Nevada Politics Today: Teacher raises - VIDEO
Jason Goudie, the chief financial officer for the Clark County School District, talks about teacher pay and raises. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Media's Double Standard On Incitement And Trump - Video
Over the weekend, an Elizabeth Warren-supporting socialist who opposed gun violence used a rifle to commit a mass murder in Dayton, Ohio. The media has downplayed that aspect of the tragedy.
Project Our Care Tour Kicks Off In Las Vegas
U.S. Rep. Dina Titus joined health care advocates and local residents as part of Protect Our Care’s nationwide bus tour kick off in Las Vegas on Monday, August 5, 2019. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Bernie Sanders talks about guns, response to El Paso shooting
Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke about his response and continued policy ideas about guns and gun control to the Review-Journal after a panel of other topics. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pete Buttigieg On Gun Control And Climate Change - Video
Pete Buttigieg talks about his campaign for the 2020 election and how Nevada is a vision of what the future can be.
Beto O'Rourke speaks in Las Vegas
Presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke spoke to supporters at the East Las Vegas Community Center in Las Vegas, Thursday, Aug. 2, 2019. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
THE LATEST