Sanders urged to share vaunted donor list with Biden
The presidential campaigns for former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) appear to be working seamlessly together, but some Democrats are questioning why Sanders has not offered his vaunted fundraising list to help Biden overcome the massive cash deficit he faces against President Trump.
Sanders has built an unmatched network of grass-roots liberal donors who helped him crush the competition in fundraising during the 2020 primary season. Biden, meanwhile, has run a shoestring campaign and faces a daunting challenge against Trump, who has raised more than $700 million this cycle and has about $250 million in the bank.
Sanders’s list of supporters is viewed as one of the most valuable commodities in politics. Since suspending his campaign for president, Sanders has used it to raise money to reelect progressive members of Congress, to support state level progressives and to raise money for coronavirus relief efforts.
But so far, at least, he hasn’t leveraged it to raise money for Biden, drawing criticism from some Democrats.
“Why hasn’t there been an ask for money?” said one Democratic strategist. “[Sanders] out-raised everybody in the primary by a long shot. His donor list is huge. Why not start there?”
“We raised a lot of money in recent weeks, but we need to do better,” the strategist continued. “We must have all guns firing or we’re going to lose this thing.”
The complaint over fundraising is not coming from the Biden campaign, which has been pleased with how Sanders committed from an early point to rallying his supporters behind the presumptive nominee.
“Vice President Biden is honored to have Sen. Sanders’s strong endorsement and is looking forward to continuing to work closely with him to defeat Donald Trump and enact a progressive agenda that will rebuild our middle class and end the rampant corruption and cronyism we’ve seen under the current administration,” said Michael Gwin, a spokesman for the Biden campaign.
And progressives argue that pushing Sanders to hand over his email list displays a fundamental misunderstanding about how modern day digital fundraising works.
Chuck Rocha, a senior adviser to the Sanders campaign, said that the list only works because the supporters are energized to give directly to Sanders or because they share the same passion for the progressive causes that Sanders supports.
Rocha noted that the pro-Sanders super PAC Our Revolution was given access to Sanders’s 2016 email list and was only able to raise a fraction of what the campaign raised because it didn’t resonate the same way coming from a different source.
“That email list only works for Bernie Sanders and we’ve proven it,” Rocha said. “The strength of the list isn’t the list itself. It’s Bernie Sanders. If Joe Biden had four Bernie lists, he couldn’t raise much money off of it. That’s not a critique of Joe Biden. It’s just that Bernie is the reason that the list works.”
Neil Sroka, a strategist for the progressive group Democracy for America, said that handing the list over would degrade it and lead to diminishing returns, resulting in Sanders’s base of grass-roots supporters giving less money to the liberal causes they support financially.
“The idea that all Bernie Sanders has to do here is turn over his email list so they can pillage it and batter it until it spits out gold coins is absolutely ridiculous,” Sroka said.
“As someone who wants Joe Biden to beat Trump, you want to find ways to help, and connecting supporters to Biden to make contributions is an important and useful way that Sanders can demonstrate the value of the movement he’s built. That’s why Bernie is calling on Joe Biden to meet the moment with more progressive policies, because they’re good policies and will also help him earn the enthusiastic support of the grass-roots liberals he’ll need to win in November.”
Democrats have few other complaints with Sanders’s advocacy on behalf of Biden.
Sanders has directly asked his supporters to put aside their differences with Biden and to support the likely Democratic nominee in November. He routinely touts Biden’s candidacy in media interviews and during livestream events.
And the Biden and Sanders camps appear to be working well together, announcing on Wednesday that they will collaborate on working policy groups that include high-profile progressives to help shape Biden’s platform.
Sanders has even done some things his supporters would have thought unimaginable only a few months ago, such as putting his name on an email fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee (DNC).
Democrats have noticed and appreciated the starkly different tone Sanders has taken with Biden, compared to what many viewed as his soft support for Hillary Clinton following their bitter primary battle in 2016.
“Personally, I’ve been impressed by the clear, unambiguous signals that Senator Sanders has been sending regarding the importance of electing Joe Biden and defeating Donald Trump,” said Zac Petkanas, a veteran of Clinton’s 2016 campaign.
Still, there are concerns among Democrats about whether the Biden campaign will be able to hold its own against the fundraising and campaign behemoth Trump has built in 2020.
The Biden campaign and DNC effectively fought the Trump campaign and Republican National Committee to a fundraising tie in April, with each raising about $60 million.
The April hauls represent the first monthly fundraising period to unfold entirely under the coronavirus lockdown, which has forced the campaigns to take their efforts completely online.
But while the Trump campaign and RNC did not see a meaningful fundraising dip in April, the Biden campaign and DNC raised about $19 million less than they did in March.
The Trump campaign also has a massive cash-on-hand advantage. The Biden campaign has not said how much it has in the bank, but it is likely nowhere close to the Trump campaign’s $255 million.
A second Democratic strategist called it “inexcusable” that Sanders isn’t making the same ask of his donors. Some Democrats noted that Clinton has lent her Onward Together email list to the Biden campaign.
“That’s part of an endorsement,” the strategist said.
Strategist Michael Trujillo, a veteran of Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign, said he’s “not in the camp that Sanders needs to do more.”
“We currently have a nominee that is opening up an enduring lead in swing states and across the country by campaigning from his basement,” Trujillo said. “Senator Sanders I’m sure when the time comes will step up and work with our Democratic nominee to defeat President Trump in November.”