Debate 8

In just a few minutes from this post going live, the eigth Democratic Presidential debates will begin on ABC. I’ll try to be live-tweeting and let you know if anyone is emailing during the debates.

The end of year FEC filings have been made public, and I’ve been pouring over the numbers. In honor of the 8th debate, I have created 8 fundraising-related charts to show you.

For these charts, I am only taking into account the 7 candidates on the debate stage tonight. For the first six, I am only counting their 2019 fundraising.

To begin with, let’s look at the raw numbers.

Sorted by total fundraising, low to high

In terms of sheer raw money the campaigns brought in, Tom Steyer had nearly double the amount of the next top fundraiser, Bernie Sanders.

Now, some of you may look at that legend and go “Hey, wait, where are the big corporate donors!?”

“Big donors” are people who have cumulatively given $200 or more to a candidate, up to the legal maximum of $2,800. “Small” donors are people who have cumulatively given under $200 to a candidate. Regardless of the amount given, all of these donations come from individuals.

So, where then, does the corporate money come into play? Long story short: It doesn’t. Not directly. The only way a corporation can give money to a candidate is if it goes through a PAC. Let’s look at the various sources for fundraising.

  • Individual: As already discussed, this money comes from individuals. This is where the “grassroots” come into play. Varying candidates have varying definitions of grassroots (Andrew Yang seems to only count <$200 as grassroots, while everyone else on the debate stage considers <$2,800.01 as grassroots), but this money comes entirely from individual people opening their wallets for a candidate.
  • Other Committees/Candidates: These are donations from other candidates or political committees, including PACs. There is a legal limit to these donations under the FEC, but this is one way to get “outside money” that is not grassroots.
  • Transfers: This money comes from a previous campaign helmed by the same candidate at the same level. A Congressional run can donate to a Presidential run (Federal to Federal), but a Mayoral run cannot donate to a Presidential run (Local to Federal). Where this transfer money ultimately came from is murkier, because it requires pouring through years of past campaign FEC reports. In my preliminary overview, though, nobody with a transfer had 100% grassroots in their previous campaign.
  • Loans: This is money loaned to the campaign, usually by the candidate. There is an expectation that this money will eventually be repaid or forgiven. John Delaney funded his campaign largely on loans from himself.
  • Other: Other forms of funding not counted in the other categories, such as interest on a bank account or dividends are counted as other money. This is not money from corporations or PACs.
  • Self: A candidate can give the campaign an unlimited amount of money from their own pocket with no expectation of repayment. This is self-funded money.

If we shift the scale around so the bars show the percentage of the various sources of fundraising, things look a little different.

Sorted by percent of individual fundraising, low to high.

Once again, Steyer’s huge self-funding squishes things, but so too does the huge grassroots fundraising from the other candidates. I think it’s safe to say that anyone at 99% grassroots-funded can consider themselves fully grassroots funded.

  • Andrew Yang: 99.96% grassroots-funded.
  • Pete Buttigieg: 99.86% grassroots-funded
  • Joe Biden: 99.80% grassroots-funded
  • Bernie Sanders: 88.13% grassroots-funded
  • Amy Klobuchar: 87.59% grassroots-funded
  • Elizabeth Warren: 87.06% grassroots-funded
  • Tom Steyer: 1.42% grassroots-funded
Sorted by total fundraising without self-funding, low to high.

If we cut self-funding out of the equation, the order changes. Tom Steyer plummets to the bottom of the pack, and it becomes a little easier to see who is bringing in non-grassroots money.

  • Bernie Sanders: $108,798,336
  • Elizabeth Warren: $81,652,085
  • Pete Buttigieg: $76,302,450
  • Joe Biden: $60,958,463
  • Andrew Yang: $31,046,669
  • Amy Klobuchar: $28,908,317
  • Tom Steyer: $2,915,852
Sorted by percent of individual fundraising without self-fundraising, low to high.

Ironically, looking at the percentages here changes the results dramatically. Without self-funding, Tom Steyer is literally 100% grassroots-funded.

  • Tom Steyer: 100%
  • Andrew Yang: 99.98%
  • Pete Buttigieg: 99.86%
  • Joe Biden: 99.80%
  • Bernie Sanders: 88.13%
  • Amy Klobuchar: 87.59%
  • Elizabeth Warren: 87.06%
Sorted by total fundraising without self-fundraising OR individual fundraising, high to low.

If we strip out those big chunks of grassroots fundraising, the chart changes yet again. For starters, the scale shrinks enough that we can actually make out some details. It also dramatically emphasizes the difference between the Senators and everyone else.

  • Tom Steyer: $0 in non-grassroots or self-funded money.
  • Andrew Yang: $6,013 in non-grassroots or self-funded money.
  • Pete Buttigieg: $103,725 in non-grassroots or self-funded money
  • Joe Biden: $122,843 in non-grassroots or self-funded money
  • Amy Klobuchar: $3,586,906 in non-grassroots or self-funded money
  • Elizabeth Warren: $10,563,909 in non-grassroots or self-funded money
  • Bernie Sanders: $12,911,526 in non-grassroots or self-funded money
Sorted by percent possible outside groups fundraising without self-fundraising OR individual fundraising, high to low.

Looking at percentages again, we can see that the order has yet again shifted around. Again, remember, a candidate can count PAC money either as “Other Committees” or as money given to a previous campaign from a PAC. As such, I added together the percentage of fundraising that could potentially have come from a PAC (not guaranteed to come from a PAC) and sorted by that.

  • Tom Steyer: 0% of his total funding is potentially from a PAC
  • Andrew Yang: 0.02% (72.28% of 0.04%) of his total funding is potentially from a PAC
  • Pete Buttigieg: 0.03% (21.81% of 0.14%) of his total funding is potentially from a PAC
  • Joe Biden: 0.16% (82.44% of 0.20%) of his total funding is potentially from a PAC
  • Bernie Sanders: 11.68% (98.43% of 11.87%) of his total funding is potentially from a PAC
  • Elizabeth Warren: 12.76% (98.60% of 12.94%) of her total funding is potentially from a PAC
  • Amy Klobuchar: 12.41% (99.98% of 12.41%) of her total funding is potentially from a PAC

Again, to scream clarification, this does NOT mean that money came from PACs. It means it might have come from PACs. If I didn’t have a day job, I could dig into all of their millions of receipts and track down where, exactly, those dollars came from, but alas, I do. I point you toward the FEC site or Open Secrets if you want to do your own digging.

Finally, just for fun, I took the total individual contributions each candidate raised in Q4 (October 1, 2019 through December 31, 2019) and divided it by the number of non-donor emails I received from each candidate. This gives a totally unscientific “approximate value” of every email they sent.

Steyer woefully underperformed

This chart completely ignores all other forms of funding, such as text messages, ads, interview plugs, peer-to-peer, fundraisers, etc. This assumes that every last dollar given came from an email.

If that’s the case, it looks like $80,000/email is a good benchmark, with Bernie Sanders pulling in more than double that, and Tom Steyer barely registering.

I don’t see a pattern

As you can see, by plotting the number of emails a campaign sent by the average amount of money they “earned” per email, there is absolutely no correlation between sending a lot of emails and getting a lot of money.

Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden, please. My inbox is begging you. Slow down.

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