Nearly Half The Democratic Primary Field Is Spending More Than They Raised

That and more takeaways from the second-quarter fundraising reports.

When a presidential campaign waits until the final day of a Federal Election Commission reporting period to reveal how much it raised in the prior three months, it’s typically not a good sign. And a lot of Democratic presidential campaigns waited until the last day ― July 15 ― to reveal how much money they brought in from April through June.

The campaign fundraising reports contained bad news for more Democrats than not. Nearly half the field spent more money over the past three months than they raised, and a significant gap has opened up between the five leading candidates and the rest of the campaigns. But there’s also a significant gap between down-ballot Democrats and their Republican opponents, and between President Donald Trump’s operation and anything that came before it.

Here are five things we learned from the July campaign finance numbers:

The Top Tier

Five candidates have completely separated themselves from the rest of the gigantic primary field. Former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Sen. Kamala Harris (Calif.), Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg are the only candidates to raise more than $10 million in the second quarter. They also hold the top five positions in national polling averages.

From left to right, Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris, are among the five candidates, along with Elizabeth Warren (not pictured), raising significant sums for their presidential bids.
From left to right, Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris, are among the five candidates, along with Elizabeth Warren (not pictured), raising significant sums for their presidential bids.
SAUL LOEB via Getty Images

Buttigieg raised the most in the second quarter with a surprising $25 million haul. The positive media attention the small-city mayor received in the first quarter of the year translated into increased attention from the party’s donor class.

This was Biden’s first full campaign finance report of the race, as he didn’t announce his bid until April 25. He raised $21 million after attending numerous big-money fundraising events. About a third of his campaign’s haul came from donors donating the federal maximum of $2,800.

Warren saw the biggest jump in fundraising from quarter to quarter, with $19.2 million raised from April to the end of June. This was more than three times the $6 million she raised in the first quarter. And she did it all while eschewing big-money fundraising events and dialing donors for dollars. She raised $12.7 million of her total from small donors giving less than $200.

Sanders and Harris both maintained the same levels of fundraising they showed in the first quarter, raising $18 million and $12 million, respectively. Sanders, whose fundraising was done mostly through small donations, padded his total with a $7.6 million transfer of funds from his Senate campaign.

Some Candidates Will Have To Drop Out Soon

There are more Democratic presidential candidates than there are movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But based on their fundraising-to-spending ratios, that number could snap down to size sooner than many people think.

Nine candidates running for the party’s nomination are already in the dire situation of spending more money than they raised. Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (Texas), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Gov. John Hickenlooper (Colo.), Gov. Jay Inslee (Wash.), Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii), tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang and spiritual adviser Marianne Williamson all spent more than they raised in the second quarter of 2019.

Among these, none has fallen further than O’Rourke in the last three months. After raising $9.4 million in the first quarter, O’Rourke’s fundraising collapsed to $3.6 million from April through June. Even worse, his campaign spent $5.3 million ― far more than he took in. You can start counting down the days to the end when a campaign starts spending more than it raises ― especially this early in the election season.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) is one of nine Democratic presidential candidates who spent more than they raised in the second quarter of 2019.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) is one of nine Democratic presidential candidates who spent more than they raised in the second quarter of 2019.

Booker raised $4.5 million and spent $5.3 million. Klobuchar raised $3.9 million and spent $4.1 million. Gillibrand raised $2.3 million and spent $4.2 million. Inslee raised $3 million and spent $3.2 million. Gabbard raised $1.5 million and spent $1.8 million. Hickenlooper raised $1.1 million while spending $1.6 million. Yang raised $2.8 million and spent $3.1 million. Williamson raised $1.5 million and spent a hair more.

Hickenlooper’s campaign already lost five key advisers due to his struggles to raise money and gain in the polls. These advisers told him to quit the race before they quit his campaign. He had just $836,000 in cash on hand as of June 30.

Inslee kept his cash on hand over $1 million. It appears that he was able to do so by delaying his second payroll payments for June until after the quarter ended on June 30. This way, the spending wouldn’t appear on his reports until the third-quarter numbers are due on Oct. 15.

Among these five candidates, the three senators have the largest pile of reserve funds to keep a campaign afloat. That’s because they transferred funds from their Senate campaigns to their presidential accounts. Gillibrand has more room to maneuver, as she transferred $9.6 million. Klobuchar transferred $3.6 million, while Booker was only able to transfer $2.7 million. Without some change in their fundraising fortunes, none will last much beyond the Iowa caucuses in February.

The Green Wave Continues

Mark Kelly, the former astronaut who is all but certain to be the Democratic nominee for Senate in Arizona, took in $4.2 million in the second quarter of the year ― more than about three-quarters of the Democratic presidential field. The haul, about half of which came from small donors, is enough to give him $5.9 million on hand.

Kelly led the way among down-ballot Democrats, who continued the strong fundraising success that powered the party’s midterm victories. Then, a “green wave” of small-dollar donors helped Democratic candidates overwhelm their GOP opponents. While well-funded GOP super PACs tried to close the gap, their ability to do so was limited ― candidate money goes farther because they’re allowed to buy television ads at cheaper rates.

Early indicators suggest Democrats may have that advantage again in 2020. The level of small-dollar donations to swing-seat House candidates is still high, and money is coming to House members across the ideological spectrum ― on the liberal side, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez raised $1.2 million and California Rep. Katie Porter banked $1 million; while moderates like New York Rep. Max Rose and California Rep. Josh Harder each raised over $700,000.

Some Republican Senate candidates did post impressive fundraising totals. Sen. Martha McSally, Kelly’s opponent, raised $3.3 million, and Michigan’s John James raised $1.5 million. But both still trail the Democrats they’re set to face in 2020.

Donald Trump’s Permanent Campaign Raises A Ton Of Money

The day he took office, President Donald Trump did something no other president has done before. He filed for reelection and immediately started raising money. This move allowed him to continue to use donor money to pay himself for using his properties, but also to amass a war chest for his reelection campaign. He has raised $135 million for his personal campaign account so far.

President Donald Trump raised $108 million across four campaign accounts for his reelection campaign in the second quarter.
President Donald Trump raised $108 million across four campaign accounts for his reelection campaign in the second quarter.

But he has raised more through joint fundraising committees linking his campaign to the Republican National Committee. In the second quarter, he raised $108 million through his personal campaign account, two joint fundraising committees and the RNC. It’s a staggering sum, although it’s aided by an increase in limits on political party campaign contributions enacted in 2014.

By comparison, before those limits increased, President Barack Obama raised a combined total of $89 million across his personal campaign account, joint fundraising committee and the Democratic National Committee over the same time period in 2011. But Obama raised far more for his own campaign account ― $46 million ― than the $30 million for Trump.

The Disappearance (For Now) Of The Presidential Super PAC

At about this time four years ago, the political world was in awe of the $103 million the super PAC supporting former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush managed to raise in the first six months of 2015. Right to Rise, of course, would burn through most of that money, doing little to help as Bush struggled to break through against Trump.

Nearly every GOP candidate in 2016 ― save Trump ― had a super PAC, which can raise and spend unlimited amounts as long as it doesn’t officially coordinate with the candidate’s actual campaign. Outside groups backing Florida Sen. Marco Rubio had raised more than $30 million by the end of June, and a trio of super PACs supporting Texas Sen. Ted Cruz had raised more than $38 million.

This time around? Super PACs supporting Democratic candidates have raised an announced total of just $1.125 million. All of that money was donated to Dream United, which is backing New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker. (Booker’s campaign has repeatedly said he doesn’t want the help of super PACs.) The overwhelming majority of that haul came from major Democratic donor Susan Sandler, who donated $1 million. Steve Phillips, the donor running the PAC, said he anticipates being able to raise between $5 million and $10 million to help Booker’s candidacy.

There’s also a super PAC, Act Now on Climate, supporting Inslee’s campaign, and it hasn’t filed its FEC report yet. (The deadline for super PACs to file is the end of the month.)

But it’s clear this unwieldy group of Democratic candidates, at least so far, is much less reliant on supersized donations than their Republican counterparts were four years ago. But will struggling Democratic candidates abandon their “no super PAC” stance in order to keep their campaigns alive?

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