Here are the top five things we learned from the latest round of 2020 campaign finance reports.
The Democratic Party’s biggest donors are diving in
After steering clear of much major giving in 2019, the biggest donors in the Democratic Party got serious in the first month of the election year.
Priorities USA, the main Democratic super PAC preparing to back the party’s nominee against Trump, took in $5 million from hedge fund magnate Donald Sussman in January — more than double the biggest check Sussman cut in 2019. The super PAC also raised $2 million from financier and philanthropist George Soros’ Democracy PAC, which didn’t give to any big Democratic PACs in 2019. And it raised $1 million from real estate broker George Marcus, who only donated big money to downballot causes in 2019.
All three donors have a history of being among the very top funders in the Democratic Party: Sussman alone donated $27 million to Democratic groups during the 2018 midterms, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Meanwhile, the super PAC backing Joe Biden, Unite the Country, netted a half-million dollars from LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman. Though Hoffman has spent tens of millions of dollars on politics in recent years, he hasn’t endorsed a 2020 candidate and hadn’t spent significant resources helping any Democrat in the primary — prior to donating to Unite the Country.
Super PACs are coming to the rescue
Cash-strapped candidates are relying more and more on super PACs, which can raise unlimited money and spend it in places the candidates can’t afford.
In recent days, Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar have accepted aid from super PACs, while Biden and Pete Buttigieg took their help earlier in the race. While the newer groups haven’t had to disclose anything about their finances yet, the organizations helping Biden and Buttigieg are raising money from key donors.
The pro-Biden Unite the Country drew in $4.1 million in January and spent $3.9 million. In addition to LinkedIn founder Hoffman, major donors to Unite the Country included Richard Blum, investor and husband of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who gave the group $1 million; medical technology entrepreneur Joe Kiani, who donated $750,000; and Silicon Valley venture capitalist Ron Conway, who gave the group $250,000.
And VoteVets, which endorsed Buttigieg in December and has aired $2.1 million in ads backing him in New Hampshire and Nevada, is drawing in money from Buttigieg donors who previously didn’t give to the group. They include Buttigieg campaign finance chairwoman Swati Mylavarapu and her husband, Matt Rogers, who donated $100,000 combined in January. Hamilton James, executive vice president of financial services firm Blackstone and a bundler for Buttigieg, gave $15,000 and New York-based investor Nicole Fox, also a Buttigieg bundler, gave $10,000.
The Democratic race is divided into “haves” and “have-nots”
Three candidates — two billionaires and Bernie Sanders — currently have enough money to run national campaigns. The other candidates do not, and it’s forcing them to pick and choose where and how to operate.
Sanders was the only non-billionaire candidate with eight figures in his bank account at the start of February, and we’re seeing the effects of that already. Sanders, Bloomberg and financier Tom Steyer have all aired significant numbers of TV ads and purchased more than $2 million more of upcoming airtime in the 14 Super Tuesday states, for example. (Bloomberg has reserved just under $10 million in ads in the coming days, according to the tracking firm Advertising Analytics.)
But none of the other candidates have made advance TV reservations of more than $1 million, and former Vice President Joe Biden and ex-South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg don’t have any television airtime currently reserved in the Super Tuesday states at all.
The campaign now involves many, expensive states at once — and candidates can’t rely on county-by-county retail politics like they did in Iowa. Only a few campaigns are currently putting up a real fight across the country. The rest are hoping they’ll catch fire and build out a bigger campaign before time runs out.
Klobuchar’s February rise had roots in January
Klobuchar’s third-place finish in New Hampshire was a surprise to many onlookers. But her fundraising had been cranking up in January before she nabbed her third-place win: She took in $5.5 million, in the same league as Buttigieg’s $6.6 million and behind the $8.9 million raised by Biden.
That money won’t be enough to make Klobuchar the frontrunner in the race. And she started February with only $2.9 million in the bank, not nearly enough to mount a big national campaign going forward. But Klobuchar’s haul does show she’s been gaining support that put her on a footing to compete with the other Democratic candidates.
Trump towers over the field — except for Bloomberg
While Democratic candidates are spending to win the primary, Trump is building up his campaign. Trump’s campaign and the Republican National Committee have brought in $452 million since January 2019.
And yet, Bloomberg’s campaign spending will quickly dwarf even Trump’s massive campaign operation. In fact, it’s actually one of the selling points that Bloomberg and backers have been using to support his candidacy.
It remains to be seen whether Bloomberg’s money will buy him many votes in the primary. But the former New York City mayor — who has said he may spend $1 billion to defeat Trump this year, even if he’s not the nominee — is close to outspending every other candidate after spending $409 million through January.