Political News

Five takeaways from Democrats' 2020 fundraising

Posted February 1, 2020 8:51 a.m. EST

— The Iowa caucuses are just days away, and a new round of financial disclosure reports showed former Vice President Joe Biden entering the year with low reserves of cash, two self-funding billionaires awash in it, and all the presidential candidates burning through money ahead of the first contests.

Here are some key takeaways in the new campaign finance reports:

Joe's woes

Biden raised a respectable $23.2 million for his presidential campaign during the final three months of the year, after a summer fundraising slump. But he had churned through virtually all of it by year's end.

That left the former vice president with a little less than $9 million to spend as the year opened and the 2020 nominating contests kicked off. By contrast, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, one of his leading rivals for the Democratic nomination, entered January with double the cash available: $18.2 million.

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Biden also could be outspent in the weeks ahead by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who had $13.7 million remaining in her campaign account at the start of the year, and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who had $14.5 million banked.

One of Biden's largest expense during the October-to-December quarter: Payroll.

The news of Biden's financial position comes just days before Monday's first-in-the-nation caucuses in Iowa, making a strong finish there all the more important for Biden if he hopes to build momentum and keep donors engaged through South Carolina's primary in late February.

Biden's wealthy supporters are trying to fill the gaps.

A super PAC run by his allies, called Unite the County, raised nearly $3.8 million in 2019, with about one quarter of its haul, $1 million, coming from a single individual: George Marcus, a Bay Area real-estate billionaire. On Friday, the group announced that new January fundraising had brought the total raised to date to $7.6 million.

Unite the Country already has spent $4.8 million on ads in Iowa though Friday night, outspending the Biden campaign ad buys in the state, according to a tally by Kantar Media's Campaign Media Analysis Group.

Billionaires outpace rivals

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg plowed a staggering $200 million into his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in a roughly six-week period at the end of the last year.

To understand the scope of his spending, consider this: Nine of his Democratic rivals collectively raised just $138 million during the last three months of the year.

The lion's share of his money -- or nearly three-quarters of the $188 million Bloomberg spent -- went to television and digital advertising as the billionaire raced to introduce himself to Democratic primary voters and begin to pummel President Donald Trump on the airwaves.

And he's not slowing down as he takes aim at the delegate-rich states that vote on Super Tuesday and beyond. As of early Saturday morning, Bloomberg's spending on TV, radio and digital ads approached $300 million.

Bloomberg's campaign has gone on a spending spree not typically seen in political campaigns.

In a sprint to quickly stand up a campaign after Bloomberg decided to enter the race last November, it spent $679,000 on furnished New York City apartments for staffers. Nearly as much went to private plane travel.

Office furniture: $258,000. And the campaign bill for sushi topped five figures.

The other billionaire seeking the Democratic nomination, California hedge-fund founder Tom Steyer, donated $155 million of his fortune to his campaign in the final three months of the year, campaign reports show.

Rapid spending

The filings show the Democratic candidates spent aggressively in the final months to cement or improve their standing in the race.

Outside of the billionaires in the race, Sanders spent the most, and his $50 million spending surge at year's end accounted more than half of all the money he raised last year. His expenses included roughly $20 million in advertising.

Sanders, Warren and Buttigieg all spent more than they raised in the final months of 2019, but each had more of a financial cushion than Biden.

Donors show Democrats the money

Trump is a formidable fundraiser who started campaigning early, and it's paid off. His campaign burst into 2020 with more than $100 million to spend on the 2020 race, and that doesn't count the cash reserves of the national party and his joint fundraising operations with the Republican National Committee.

But Democrats note that the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic presidential field collectively raised about $580 million last year, compared to the $463 million by Team Trump and the Republican National Committee.

And the leading Democratic presidential super PAC, Priorities USA Action, and its affiliated groups raised $58 million in 2019, the group announced Friday -- outpacing the $50.4 million brought in by the America First groups that back Trump's reelection.

Senate tossups

Democratic candidates in some of the nation's most competitive contests also outpaced the Republican incumbents they are trying to oust.

In the closely watched race in Maine, for instance, Democratic challenger Sara Gideon outraised Sen. Susan Collins, $3.5 million to $2.3 million, campaign reports filed late Friday showed. In Colorado, former Democratic governor John Hickenlooper outraised incumbent GOP Sen. Cory Gardner, $2.7 million to $2 million.

Collins and Gardner, however, had much larger piles of reserved cash than the Democrats hoping to face them in November's general election.

In Arizona, Democrat Mark Kelly posted a big $6.3 million fourth-quarter haul, surpassing the $4 million collected by Republican Sen. Martha McSally. McSally was appointed to the Senate seat in December 2018 to replace late Republican Sen. John McCain.

Kelly, a gun-safety advocate and former astronaut, also has a huge advantage in available cash. He barreled into the year with a $13.6 million war chest to McSally's $7.7 million.

All three GOP seats are rated as tossups by nonpartisan Cook Political Report.

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