The presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) raised $18 million in the second three-month period in 2019, the campaign announced Tuesday.
Sanders also transferred $6 million to his presidential bid from his Senate campaign account, bringing his fundraising total for the quarter to $24 million.
In a call with reporters, the campaign emphasized the breadth of its small donor base, noting that the total amount came from about 1 million individual contributions that averaged $18. More than 99% of the donations were $100 or less.
“The number, from our perspective, demonstrates a campaign that is persistent, resilient and strong,” said Sanders campaign manager Faiz Shakir. “It demonstrates that it is a people-powered campaign.”
Shakir argued that a fundraising spike after Sanders’ appearance in the presidential debate on Thursday night undermines the idea that Sanders’ performance was disappointing.
The campaign raised almost $2 million on Sunday, making it the second-highest fundraising day of Sanders’ campaign. (Sunday was also the fundraising deadline for the quarter when campaigns typically step up the pace and intensity of their requests for money.)
The Sanders campaign is proud of the working- and middle-class makeup of its donor base, which it cites as evidence of recognition of Sanders’ advocacy for workers.
The most common profession of a Sanders donor is a teacher, one of whom, Phoenix educator Rebecca Garelli, joined the press call to explain why she was supporting Sanders. And the most common employer of Sanders’ donors is Walmart, the massive retailer whose annual shareholder meeting Sanders attended in June to call for higher pay for the store’s workers and making workers eligible for corporate board seats.
Sanders has struggled to maintain his standing in the polls in the past few months, particularly in the wake of upticks from Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and, more recently, Kamala Harris of California.
Nationally, Sanders is still in second place behind former Vice President Joe Biden, according to Real Clear Politics’ average of major polls. But Warren and Harris are close at his heels.
Sanders also no longer leads the field in fundraising, a distinction he held in the first quarter of the year, prior to Biden’s entry in the race. South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, the only other candidate to announce his latest fundraising figures, banked $24.8 million in the second quarter without the benefit of a transfer from a previous campaign fund.
The Sanders campaign attributed the difference to Sanders’ unwillingness to court wealthy individuals for campaign cash. Unlike Buttigieg and other leading contenders, Sanders refuses to do high-dollar fundraisers, though he has held at least one “grassroots” fundraiser aimed at giving supporters a more intimate audience with the Vermont senator. The event in San Francisco in early June, which was open to the press, had an entry price of $27 and raised about $80,000, according to the campaign.
Campaign aides framed Sanders’ reliance on smaller-level donors as a strategic advantage since it ensures that donors won’t reach contribution limits too early. They maintain that it also affirms the campaign’s central argument that while other contenders may be proposing similar policies, only Sanders can be trusted to fight for them. (Warren, however, the candidate nearest Sanders ideologically, has also foresworn private, high-dollar fundraisers.)
“When you go into those high-dollar donor meetings, their support comes with a cost,” Shakir said, claiming that candidates who solicit those contributions have “compromised [themselves] in being able to deliver on the policy change that people desperately want.”
On Tuesday’s press call, Shakir and former Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner both panned Biden’s comments to a room full of well-heeled donors that “nothing would fundamentally change” for them under a Biden administration. (The Biden campaign has said he meant that wealthy people would not need to give up their standard of living in order to curb income inequality.)
“If nothing fundamentally changes for multi-millionaires and billionaires in this country, then nothing fundamentally changes for the everyday people of this country,” Turner said.
Turner also took a shot at former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas.) for holding a conference call with major donors the day after his appearance in the debate on Wednesday.
“Sen. Sanders couldn’t fit his donors in multiple rooms if he sought their opinions about what he could do better,” Turner said.