Tom Steyer caused an upset on Tuesday by announcing that he had 130,000 donors and 3 of the 4 required polls for the September debates. Most candidates were far more interested in telling me about Iowa than they were with Steyer’s accomplishment, but Steve Bullock had some words about his opponent.
Joe Biden, Cory Booker, Steve Bullock, Pete Buttigieg, Julian Castro, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Tim Ryan, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren all doubled down with 2 emails each.
Pete Buttigieg was the only candidate who did not outright ask for money in his Tuesday emails. (He had a donation button in his footer, but I ignore those if they are both standard footer for a candidate and not referenced directly in the email above. I do this for all candidates.) Instead, he was launching part 2 of his rural America policy, focusing on the infrastructure and strength of the communities. Part 1, launched last week, was all about healthcare in rural America. I was a bit miffed that he sent me a follow-up email that same day, just making sure I saw the first one. Yes, Buttigieg. I did see it. And if I wasn’t in the habit of opening political emails, sending me another one 5 hours later won’t make me more likely to open it.
This is actually a very common tactic among political emails, so common, in fact, that it has a bar on my Topic chart: Repeat. Though, to be fair, I didn’t count this email from Buttigieg as a repeat email because he didn’t include text from his previous email. The actual repeat emails on Tuesday came from Cory Booker and Steve Bullock.
Both Booker and Bullock wanted to talk to me about Tom Steyer. Steyer emailed early Tuesday morning to announce his 130,000 donors, to thank us for our support, and to ask for more donations if I felt like it. Booker used this as another chance to remind me that the fall debates were still incredibly crowded and he needed money to stand out on that debate stage.
Bullock got angry.
We just got the news: Tom Steyer has 130,000 donors and will likely qualify for the next DNC debate.
He spent $10 MILLION in just one month to buy online donors, dominate the airwaves with TV ads, and boost himself in the polls.
You shouldn’t have to be a billionaire to run for President or participate in debates. Money doesn’t vote. People do. And I think the most important qualification any candidate should have is a record of getting things done for everyday people.
But sadly, the DNC is letting a billionaire buy his way onto the debate stage.
I don’t have billions of dollars at my disposal — and frankly, I don’t want it. I’m running for President to get Big Money OUT of our politics. That’s what I’ll talk about on the next debate stage, but I need people like you to chip to help me get there. Can you chip in?
The DNC donor requirement has created a situation in which billionaires can buy their way onto the debate stage.Steve Bullock
Campaigns are forced to spend millions on digital ads chasing one dollar donors instead of talking directly to voters. We’re kidding ourselves if we’re calling a $10 million purchase of 130,000 donors a demonstration of grassroots support.
It’s not serving the candidates, and it sure isn’t helping the voters who will actually decide this election.
We need to go everywhere and talk to everybody in order to win back the places Democrats lost and defeat Trump. That’s exactly what I plan to do — but I need your help to do it.
If you believe we need a voice in this primary that will stand up to Big Money — no matter what party it comes from — please consider chipping in today:
I both agree and disagree with Bullock. It does rub me the wrong way that a billionaire can, in just over one month, can amass not only the donors needed, but also the polls needed to qualify for the fall debates. It doesn’t seem inherently fair.
And yet, if I stop and take a step back from my emotions and look at the situation… isn’t it? Take a look at Pete Buttigieg. He literally came out of nowhere. In March, he exploded onto the scene, and by the end of Q1 had the 130,000 donors he needed to be on the debate stage in the fall. The polling requirement also came easy to him. But Buttigieg had no big money when he started, no name recognition, and very little more than a great (albeit small) team and a great message. He resonated with voters and he earned his spot on the stage.
Look at Andrew Yang, another political nobody who made a huge splash. His unconventional campaigning has brought him the 130,000 donors he needs, and he emailed to let me know that in the month of August alone, which isn’t even half over, he has already pulled in more fundraising dollars than he did in all of Q2. Yang has money of his own, but only a few million, not the billions Steyer has.
If political nobodies with no money can do it, can we really get mad at a billionaire for doing it? If only billionaires were making it to this stage, I’d have an issue. But they’re not.
Candidates who are resonating with voters are making it to the stage.
I’ve never seen any of Steyer’s ads. I’ve never heard him speak. But I have looked him up on Wikipedia, and he has an impressive resume of action and activism that align with core tenants of what Democrats value. The only argument I’ve ever heard against Steyer is that he’s rich.
But as I’ve said before, rich is still American. He has every right to do this as any other candidate.
And as I’ve also said before, if Bullock isn’t catching on like other candidates… maybe the problem isn’t the other candidates.
Look at the tone of Bullock’s email. “Campaigns are forced to spend millions on digital ads chasing one dollar donors instead of talking directly to voters.” (Emphasis mine)
No they aren’t. Neither Buttigieg nor Yang had spent millions on digital ads chasing one dollar donors (to my knowledge) before they caught on. They had a good message and a good messenger. They catch fire because they catch the imagination of the voters, and then the voters talk to each other. They make people excited. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Kamala Harris make people excited.
I mean, just look at what some of the campaigns are doing! Elizabeth Warren shared pictures of her donor wall:
Kamala Harris is offering a sticker of her tour bus because she loved it so much:
Bernie Sanders threw in a GIF:
Bullock has a lot of complaints about how he started late and had to play catch-up (and no longer can use that excuse, because Steyer started even later). It’s not engaging and it’s not inspiring. I’m not surprised it’s not going over very well.