© 2020 WFAE
90.7 Charlotte 93.7 Southern Pines 90.3 Hickory 106.1 Laurinburg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Democrats Take Campaign Fundraising To New Levels In 2020

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

OK. Here's a new term - fundraging (ph). It is when someone channels their emotions into their political donations. In 2020, Democrats have taken fundraging to historic new levels, as NPR's Susan Davis reports.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: If 2008 was about hope and change for Democrats, 2020 is about anger and fear.

BARBARA RAVAGE: I'm terrified. And if I were not as old as I am, I'd be out on the streets.

DAVIS: The pandemic has kept 75-year-old Barbara Ravage away from volunteering in person this year, so she's been giving money instead.

RAVAGE: So there's no question that I have traded, you know, rolling up my sleeves for reaching into my pocket.

DAVIS: She's part of an anxious army of small-dollar donors - people who give under $200 at a time - that are fueling Democratic campaigns this year and has led to a pronounced money advantage in nearly all of the country's most competitive races. It's called fundraging. Brooklyn-based lawyer Sarah Levitt can relate.

SARAH LEVITT: After something bad will happen, I'll kind of seriously put in a bunch of donations.

DAVIS: She did just that after Bob Woodward's recent book reported that President Trump had publicly downplayed the threat of the coronavirus. A key feature of fundraging is donating to whatever Democrat is running against the Republicans someone dislikes the most.

LEVITT: Since the primary, I've mostly given to candidates because they're running against someone that I don't particularly like as opposed to because I like that candidate.

DAVIS: No one has benefited more from the small-donor tsunami than Senate Democratic candidates. They've outraised Republican incumbents in nearly every competitive Senate race. Seven 2020 races have already cracked the Top 10 list of most expensive Senate races ever. Democrats have also outraised nearly every Republican in the top two dozen competitive House races and in many districts President Trump won in 2016. Most of this money is funneled to campaigns through ActBlue, a tech platform launched in 2004 that connects small donors with Democratic campaigns and causes. Here's Executive Director Erin Hill.

ERIN HILL: The majority of money that's going into all Democratic races that is leading to this kind of outpouring of support, leading to all of these races being better funded by the Republican rivals, is coming from grassroots donors.

DAVIS: Over 13 million people have used ActBlue during the 2020 election, with an average contribution of $35. As the election gets closer, fundraising has exploded. From July to September alone, ActBlue raised $1.5 billion, almost as much as they did during the entire 2018 election. Hill rejects the term fundraging because she thinks it diminishes the bigger picture.

HILL: It's not just dollars. The dollars are important, but this is also just civic participation. These people are making 5- and $10 donations, are also - they're voting.

DAVIS: Republicans don't really argue with the impact ActBlue has had. Gerrit Lansing runs WinRed, the conservative counterpart to ActBlue, which launched just last year.

GERRIT LANSING: They've got a 15-year head start, though, and what comes with that is major scale, network effects and cultural differences about how you run campaigns that we're going to have to try to speed up in order to match the numbers and eventually exceed them.

DAVIS: Lansing believes Republicans can compete quickly in the small-donor race. WinRed raised $1 billion in its first 15 months, with an average donation of $45. He gives Democrats credit for making small donors a big focus in their campaigns, as the Democratic National Committee did in the 2012 primary by requiring candidates to hit a small-donor target in order to make it onto the debate stage. He said Republicans would be wise to mimic those strategies.

LANSING: And there's going to be a lot of differences, or I would say a lot of changes coming from the party and the big institutions very quickly in the next cycle.

DAVIS: More money doesn't translate into victory, but the fundraising advantages mean every Democratic campaign has the resources it needs to compete in the home stretch while Republicans play catch-up.

Susan Davis, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.