Organizations continue work boosting Biden, Trump and search for new opportunities to fundraise from afar as social distancing guidelines rule out handshakes and photo ops.
No more handshakes or photo ops, but fundraisers still boosting Biden, Trump
In May 2019, 400 people packed into attorney John Morgan’s house in Heathrow on a Tuesday evening for the chance to see, and maybe talk to, former
Vice President Joe Biden. They paid between $1,000 to $2,800 each for the opportunity.
But a year later, hundreds of people crammed into someone’s living room is out of the question, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. And so Biden’s most recent Florida fundraiser, a “fireside chat” with state agriculture commissioner Nikki Fried, was entirely virtual – and $1,000 to $2,800 only got contributors the log-in information.
Biden’s campaign, as well as President Donald Trump’s, is still in the process of figuring out how to raise the kind of cash needed to propel a presidential run without being able to fundraise in person.
“[It’s] much more difficult,” said Morgan, a longtime Democratic fundraiser who has hosted events for the Clintons and President Obama. “People want the photo line and to rub elbows.”
Florida is one of the most important swing states in the na
tion, but getting the message out here is incredibly expensive for campaigns. Ads have to go out across 10 media markets, including key areas such as Orlando, Tampa, Miami, and Jacksonville.
Biden, in particular, was dependent on big fundraisers like the one at Morgan’s house for most of his primary run, even as some of his opponents including U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren pledged they wouldn’t do them.
Biden returned to Central Florida in October for a fundraiser in Windermere, when his campaign was routinely low on cash throughout the fall and
winter – until his breakthrough victories in the South Carolina and Super Tuesday primaries propelled him to the top of the pack.
Despite the beginnings of the outbreak, the Biden campaign raised $46 million in March once it became clear he was the future party nominee. But most of that came in the first half of the month before social distancing went into effect. And then came April – and a country almost entirely shut down. Since then, Biden has been campaigning entirely out of a studio in his basement in Wilmington, Delaware.
“It’s not just the presidential race,” said Susan MacManus, a professor emeritus of political science at the University of South Florida. “All the way down the ballot, fundraisers are heavily contingent on fundraising events for candidates, and that’s gone by the wayside. [There’s] an inability of candidates at all levels to meet people and raise money.”
The Democratic National Committee was having a tough time even before the crisis, taking in just $13 million in February. But Bloomberg’s $18 million donation in March helped the DNC raise $33 million in March, according to the campaign transparency site Open Secrets, coming in ahead of the RNC’s $24 million in March.
One of the last trips Trump made out of Washington before the crisis deepened was a brief pit stop in Seminole County on March 9 for a $100,000-per-couple fundraiser at the home of Bob and Diane Dello Russo in Alachua Lakes.
The Republican National Committee took in $212 million in the first quarter, but the pandemic began to eat into the Trump campaign’s numbers. The campaign and RNC took in a combined $63 million in March compared to $86 million in February.
But as of March 12, the day after Trump banned travel from Europe, the Trump campaign in Florida transitioned to an entirely virtual campaign. Since then, they’ve made more than 3.4 million calls to supporters in Florida.
“Trump Victory has not missed a beat and we are full steam ahead to November,” said campaign spokeswoman Emma Vaughan. “Unlike the broke DNC, we have long been investing in cutting edge technologies to run a modern campaign.”
Randy Ross, the 2016 Trump campaign chair in Orange County, said he expected fundraising totals to keep pace with where they would have been without a pandemic.
“You’d be surprised,” Ross said via text. “You don’t need a high $$$ plate fundraiser to support POTUS. And fortunately, we had been raising record monies leading into this pandemic.”
And while big donors are critical to the success of any campaign, “I’ve always believed in the concept of a fundraising army that includes huge numbers of donors at $5 to $50, etc. It all matters. It takes all levels of donors to win.”
More than 4.3 million mostly small donors helped propel the Democratic super PAC, ActBlue, to a massive $533 million first-quarter haul. But still, big donors are what every campaign is looking for.
While contributions to individual candidates are capped at $2,800, political committees can rake in unlimited amounts of money.
“As [Biden’s] chances to win become more inevitable, it will be less of a problem,” Morgan said of attracting big donors. “Giant checks can now be given to the DNC. And we still haven’t seen what Bloomberg is going to do [with the rest of his money]. One check from him and game over. Joe Biden is our next president.”