Oct. 20, 2015: This story has been corrected.
Grassroots givers are playing a pivotal role in shaping the 2016 presidential race, boosting insurgent candidates in both the Democratic and Republican primary contests as they challenge establishment favorites in the polls and the race for campaign cash.
Small-dollar donors who gave $200 or less accounted for about 40 percent of the approximately $144 million raised between July and September by the two dozen Republicans and Democrats running for president, according to a Center for Public Integrity review of campaign finance documents filed Thursday.
So who are the candidates raising the largest portion of their campaign funds from these people-powered fundraising machines? Those bucking their parties’ establishments and touting their desires to challenge the status quo in Washington.
A staggering 77 percent of the $26.2 million Bernie Sanders, an independent U.S. senator running as a Democrat, collected during the third quarter came from contributors giving $200 or less. The haul helped Sanders narrow the fundraising gap between his campaign and that of Democratic Party frontrunner Hillary Clinton, who raised $29.9 million during the same period.
Meanwhile, such small-dollar donors accounted for about 70 percent of the $3.9 million raised by Republican Party frontrunner Donald Trump, the billionaire real estate mogul and reality TV celebrity.
And they accounted for about 60 percent of the $20.8 million raised by Republican Ben Carson, a former neurosurgeon who collected more campaign cash during the third-quarter than any other GOP White House contender.
These outsider candidates’ small-dollar fundraising success reflects “grassroots unhappiness with the powers that be,” said Michael Malbin, executive director of the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute, which tracks money in politics.
“The strongest small donor campaigns are not about raising money,” Malbin added. “They’re about raising enthusiasm and getting actions.”
David Keating, president of the Center for Competitive Politics, a nonprofit that advocates for fewer campaign finance regulations, noted that small-dollar donors can add up to “serious money” over the course of a campaign.
“Dollar for dollar, small-dollar donors are worth more than big-dollar donors,” Keating said. “Those are the donors that can keep giving over and over.”
Keating added that such donors are also likely to turn out to vote for a candidate, and possibly volunteer as well.