Sanders breaks new ground in fundraising

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Bernie Sanders’s $44 million March donation intake has broken new ground for online political fundraising and for a candidate running well behind in a presidential nominating contest. 

His record-breaking sums come in spite of the fact that Sanders relies on small-dollar donors instead of well-financed millionaires and associated super-PACs and does not have a traditional finance team

{mosads}He has managed to raise these sums while being nearly 300 pledged delegates behind Clinton and more than 700 behind if superdelegates — party leaders who can choose whichever candidate they want – are counted. 

In primary seasons gone by, Sanders’s campaign would be running on financial fumes about now, says veteran Democratic strategist Joe Trippi.  

In any other year, says Trippi, Sanders’s team would have been forced to pare back its field operations, pull commercials off of the air and begin drafting a campaign suspension speech after its comprehensive losses on the March 1 Super Tuesday states through the South.  

“Bernie Sanders absolutely would have been out of the race, probably after Super Tuesday in any other year previous to this one,” says Trippi, who ran Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign, which pioneered the use of online fundraising in American politics. 

“Back in 2004, there was only 650,000 people who had given online,” Trippi added, saying that after a string of early disappointments, the money for the Dean campaign began drying up. “There was only so long you could sustain things.” 

But in the new universe of online fundraising – a universe Sanders has expanded and exploited to a greater extent than any political candidate in history – the Vermont Senator will likely never be forced to drop out due to lack of funds.  

Sanders’s March fundraising total exceeded February’s $43.5 million, allowing him to keep investing in aggressive TV advertising and ground operations nationwide against Clinton. 

After losing so many early delegates to Clinton, the Sanders campaign had to “choose a different strategic route,” Sanders’s chief strategist Tad Devine told The Hill in a telephone interview Friday. 

Sanders is now preparing for a months-long battle with Clinton and is focused on proving he can win states across the country and ultimately eat into her pledged delegate lead. 

Sanders hopes to go to the convention with a lead in pledged delegates and will then make the argument to superdelegates who have already pledged their support to Clinton that they are subverting the will of the people.  

Devine acknowledged the campaign’s fundraising prowess makes this strategy possible. “It would not have been available had we not developed this incredible mechanism of fundraising,” he said. 

“It gave us a strategic route that normally wouldn’t be available to a campaign that had lost.” 

Sanders’s campaign says it has raised 6.5 million contributions from 2 million donors. Even if half of those donors decided to quit on Sanders tomorrow, the Vermont Senator would still have a donor base robust enough to sustain him for as long as he wants to stay in the race.  

And both Sanders and Devine vow to fight Clinton all the way to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on July 25. 

Sanders’s March haul brings his total raised in the campaign to $184 million so far, with an unprecedented 97 percent of it raised online. And, as Sanders’s crowds have taken to shouting out in choreographed calls-and-responses during his rallies, the campaign’s average donation is $27. 

By contrast, Clinton’s campaign raised $160 million through to the end of February, though her campaign on Friday would not disclose March’s figures. Clinton’s super-PAC has an additional $94 million in donations and commitments from big-money donors. 

She has raised only 18 percent of her money from donors giving less than $200, giving her a narrower fundraising base than Sanders. Sanders’s campaign has raised 66 percent of its money from donors giving less than $200, according to The Hill’s analysis of FEC figures.  

The extent of Sanders’s online fundraising is also unprecedented. 

An important reason for Sanders’s fundraising success is technology. In 2004, Dean’s online donors had to give money over their laptops whereas the modern age of smartphones has made donating to political campaigns much easier, Devine says.

But Sanders’s populist message and refusal to use super-PACs or take special interest money has seen the potential of this technology realized to a greater extent than any previous or current candidate has managed. 

Given the current delegate math, pundits, pollsters and the Democratic Party establishment have almost universally written Sanders off as a “message candidate.”  

Despite winning a string of recent contests, including an historic upset in Michigan, he is further behind Clinton in pledged delegates than the former secretary of State ever was behind Barack Obama in their fierce primary contest in 2008. He has almost no institutional support and the liberal donor class, for the most part, are not fond of what they see as his divisive class warfare rhetoric. 

But Sanders’s 2016 campaign has rewritten the political fundraising manual to such a profound extent that none of these past political essentials matter. 

“In the past what happened, in many of the campaigns I’ve been involved in, the people who lost had to get out of the race essentially because they had no money,” Devine said. 

“That’s really the way it used to work. You succeeded early and raised more money or you failed and the money dried up. It was just a very simple and straightforward process.” 

Over the past nine months, millions of people bought into the Sanders campaign “not so much because they were betting on Bernie winning. They were investing in him because they believed in him. They believed in what he stood for, and they want to express that support not only by voting for him but by contributing to him on a continuous basis.” 

Earlier this month, President Obama reportedly told liberal donors that Sanders’s campaign is coming to an end and that it’s getting near the time when Democrats need to coalesce behind Clinton’s campaign.  

But Devine, who chooses his words carefully when asked about the incident, says Sanders will not be following the president’s advice. 

“We just want a chance to finish the process,” Devine says. “These people have invested in Bernie and I think they expect he’s going to carry on.”

If the fundraising continues the way it’s been going, the Sanders campaign will have no trouble doing just that. 

As Joe Trippi puts it, “If you have a message and you’re connecting, you’re in forever now.” 

Tags Barack Obama Bernie Sanders Howard Dean Tad Devine

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