Last Updated: 29 Sep 2020 02:31 AM

The cash race

WASHINGTON—In the most crowded Democratic presidential primary in decades, candidates need money and lots of it. As multiple contenders try to dip into the well of traditional political donations, others are relying on newer approaches or their own wallets.

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a self-described democratic socialist, is fueling his campaign with a swarm of small donations. He declined taking money from corporate political action committees (PACs), fossil fuel companies, and private, big-dollar fundraisers.

“The fact is that the candidates who are most morally indignant about this are the ones who don’t need [the extra cash],” said Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

Sanders’ approach this time around builds on what he did in the 2016 presidential campaign. In 2019, he raised more than $60 million—over half of his total haul—from donations under $200. He brought in a total of $96 million, more than any other Democratic presidential candidate. President Donald Trump’s campaign brought in $143 million.

Donors gave more than $1 billion in small donations to Democratic candidates and groups in 2019, aided in part by the online platform ActBlue. In 2018, it funneled more than $1.5 billion to Democratic campaigns and groups. ActBlue reported that last year about 6 million people used it to contribute to various campaigns and organizations. Half of them were first-time users.

Initially, the Democratic National Committee took steps to incentivize the small-donor approach. In setting qualifications for debates, it specified that campaigns must demonstrate broad support by meeting a minimum number of donors as opposed to a minimum dollar amount. The DNC recently changed the rules, allowing self-funded candidates to make it onto the debate stage.

Two billionaires are seeking the Democratic presidential nomination by spending gobs of their own money on the race, most of it on advertising to gain name recognition. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the richest person ever to run for president, refuses to accept donations to his campaign. His most recent Federal Election Commission filing showed a grand total of $0.00 in “total individual contributions.” Businessman Tom Steyer is accepting individual contributions to his campaign but he’s not taking PAC money. In the fourth quarter of 2019, Bloomberg raised more than $200 million, 99.9 percent of it from his own pocket. He has about $55 million cash on hand. Steyer, meanwhile, raised $156 million and has almost $2 million in cash available.

Darrell West, the vice president of the governance studies program at the Brookings Institution, said moderate Democratic candidates are struggling with fundraising this campaign season. Former Vice President Joe Biden and former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg are leaning on private fundraising dinners and PAC support. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts initially swore off PAC money but has since backtracked as she struggled to compete with Sanders to earn votes, and dollars, from the liberal wing of the party.

“It’s hard to raise money when there are several other candidates that are occupying the same political real estate as you are,” West said. “The moderates are dividing up their part of the political spectrum, while Sanders is dominating the progressive niche.”

West said Sanders’ strong stances give him the advantage of intense supporters. And people who give their donations $25 at a time are more likely to donate again and help sustain a campaign for the long term.

“If Sanders is able to get the nomination by relying on small donors, that becomes a … model for others in future years,” West said. “Candidates will understand that if they have intense support, the ability to fund an entire race through small donors is viable.”

Associated Press Fidel Castro (right) with his brother Raul in 1964

Bad role model

Controversy on the campaign trail is making its way to Capitol Hill. House Republicans want to censure Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., for praising the late Cuban dictator Fidel Castro’s literacy program.

In an interview Sunday night on CBS News’ 60 Minutes, the self-described democratic-socialist defended some aspects of Castro’s authoritarian socialist regime.

“We’re very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba, but you know, it’s unfair to simply say everything is bad,” Sanders said. “When Fidel Castro came into office, you know what he did? He had a massive literacy program. Is that a bad thing? Even though Fidel Castro did it?”

At a news conference on Wednesday, Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart, R-Fla., announced plans for a resolution condemning Sanders’ “blatantly false, irresponsible … highly ignorant and hurtful comments.” Díaz-Balart said Sanders ignored the reality of Castro’s human rights abuses and the painful experiences of many Cuban immigrants. Republicans will offer the resolution as an amendment. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Democrats then will have a choice to prove whether they “stand with Bernie or do they stand for freedom?”

Many Democrats condemned Sanders’ remarks, as well. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of Florida tweeted that as “the first South American immigrant member of Congress who proudly represents thousands of Cuban Americans, I find … [Sanders’] comments on Castro’s Cuba absolutely unacceptable.”

Sanders doubled down on his statement at the Democratic debate on Tuesday, saying that when “dictatorships, whether it’s the Chinese or the Cubans, do something good, you acknowledge that. But you don’t have to trade love letters with them.” —H.P.

Associated Press/Photo by Evan Vucci President Donald Trump

Trump sues The Times

President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign filed a suit against The New York Times on Wednesday for libel. The campaign claims an opinion piece published by the paper falsely accused the president of a “quid pro quo” with Russia.

In the March 2019 essay titled “The Real Trump-Russia Quid Pro Quo,” former Times executive editor Max Frankel called communications between Trump allies and Russian officials in the lead-up to the election “the quid of help in the campaign against Hillary Clinton for the quo of a new pro-Russian foreign policy.” He said an “overarching deal” took place rather than “detailed electoral collusion.”

Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy said the Trump campaign “has turned to the courts to try to punish an opinion writer for having an opinion they find unacceptable.”

The lawsuit is the first time the Trump campaign has sued an American newspaper. —H.P.

2020 update

Democratic presidential contenders are bracing for Saturday’s South Carolina primary, the last contest before next week’s pivotal Super Tuesday—the day voters in more than a dozen states head to the polls.

Candidates seeking to boost their credibility with South Carolina voters are touting their most recent endorsements. Former Vice President Joe Biden secured the support of U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, an influential voice among the state’s African American voters. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont picked up the endorsement of author and former candidate Marianne Williamson on Sunday. Williamson dropped out of the race last month.

A Clemson University poll released Wednesday showed Biden had an 18 point lead over his rivals with 35 percent of voters’ support. Businessman Tom Steyer, who has spent loads of money in South Carolina, came in second with 17 percent. Sanders trailed in third with 13 percent. The state has 63 delegates to award. —H.P.

What Democratic candidates’ campaign donations say about them
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The cash race
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