Open Secrets News


May 22, 2020

Each of the leading presidential campaigns are courting wealthy donors to boost their bottom lines. But President Donald Trump has a distinct advantage in the money race over presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden — small-dollar fundraising.

OpenSecrets estimates that 64 percent of Trump’s campaign cash comes from small donors when accounting for transfers from Trump’s small-dollar joint fundraising committee, totaling $174 million through April. Biden has raised $69 million from those giving $200 or less. Small donors make up about 39 percent of his total fundraising.

That small-dollar discrepancy could make it more difficult for Biden to cut away at Trump’s fundraising advantage. Trump and the Republican National Committee have $255 million cash on hand, while Biden and the Democratic National Committee have less than $98 million in the bank. Notably, Trump raised most of that small donor cash before the coronavirus pandemic left millions unemployed and put a dent in political fundraising.

Trump began his 2020 reelection bid shortly after he was inaugurated, investing heavily in social media and email harvesting to build a reliable base of small-dollar supporters. Team Trump’s online footprint is lightyears ahead of Biden’s, and the self-proclaimed “Death Star” recently launched an app for Trump supporters that Democrats envy.

Most Republicans don’t attract large numbers of small donors. Trump’s unprecedented money machine is an outlier. Biden, on the other hand, fell behind his Democratic primary opponents with small-dollar donors. Still, at this point in the 2016 cycle, Hillary Clinton raised $40 million from small donors, making up just under 20 percent of her total haul.

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Some Democratic strategists want Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to share his immense donor list with Biden to give him a boost. OpenSecrets previously reported that Sanders’ donors gave relatively littleto Biden, and the Wall Street Journal found that Biden didn’t generate enthusiasm with Sanders backers even after the Vermont senator endorsed Biden.

While Biden isn’t catching up to Trump with small donors, he is upping the ante in the race to court wealthy patrons.

Biden recently launched a joint fundraising committee that will allow donors to give up to $620,600 to benefit Biden’s campaign, the DNC and Democratic party committees in 26 states. That big-dollar fundraising venture will help the DNC catch up to the RNC, which benefits from two Trump joint fundraising committees. Trump Victory allows donors to write $580,600 checks to boost Trump’s campaign, the RNC and 22 state parties.

These joint fundraising committees allow campaigns and parties to effectively bypass contribution limits. Trump and Clinton used joint fundraising committees to transfer unlimited sums of state party money back to the RNC, abusing loopholes created by a 2014 Supreme Court ruling that struck down limits on how much a single donor can give in each election cycle.

Biden’s joint fundraising committee has not filed with the Federal Election Commission yet, but it’s already bringing in money for the Democrat’s White House bid. One recent virtual fundraiser with Clinton netted the committee $2 million, Politico reported. Biden’s campaign recently limited press access to a virtual fundraiser with Wall Street donors. Trump generally does not allow members of the press to attend his fundraisers.