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Which 2020 Democrats Get the Most Campaign Cash From Wealthy Donors?

Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaking with attendees at the 2019 California Democratic Party State Convention at the George R. Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco, California.
Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaking with attendees at the 2019 California Democratic Party State Convention at the George R. Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco, California. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

Wealthy donors such as CEOs, executives and attorneys are mostly sticking with three Democratic presidential candidates.

(By Karl Evers-Hillstrom, Center for Responsive Politics) Wealthy donors have an abundance of options to choose from in the loaded Democratic presidential primary. But for the most part, they’re sticking with a small handful of White House hopefuls.

Three candidates consistently rank among the top recipients from those in typically high-paying jobs, according to an OpenSecrets review of campaign contributions including small amounts given through the fundraising service ActBlue.

South Bend, Ind., Mayor and top-tier fundraiser Pete Buttigieg is the most popular among CEOs, consultants, realtors, accountants and physicians, among others. Former Vice President Joe Biden gets the most from investors, presidents, attorneys and chiropractors. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) wins with executives and entrepreneurs.

Buttigieg raised $32 million through the end of June, the second-most of all 2020 Democrats when excluding transfers from other federal committees. For a look into how Buttigieg, who runs a town of just 102,000 people, became an elite fundraiser, look no further than Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

Among many of the working-class professions that Sanders dominates, Buttigieg is right behind him. He overlaps with Sanders in many instances — taking in similar sums from managers, salespeople and pharmacists — while also bringing in massive hauls from well-compensated donors.

Buttigieg has traveled from coast to coast to woo wealthy donors, recently headlining a Los Angeles fundraiser with actress and musician Mandy Moore and planning a $2,800-per-ticket fundraiser on Manhattan’s Upper East Side with philanthropist Agnes Gund.

Of all the money actors gave to 2020 Democrats, one-quarter went to Buttigieg alone thanks to his numerous Hollywood fundraisers. He is also by far the most popular with interior designers and architects. The sheer number of fundraisers Buttigieg hosts helps him finish in the top five with nearly every occupation.

Buttigieg, Biden and Harris have relied on big-ticket fundraisers so far, drawing more than half of their campaign dollars from those giving more than $200 and taking in thousands of maximum $2,800 contributions.

Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sanders, on the other hand, receive a majority of their money from small donors as they angle for grassroots support. Both have both pledged to reject big-dollar fundraisers and were among the first 2020 Democrats to reject contributions from fossil fuel executives and lobbyists.

They’ve attacked Biden over his lavish fundraisers, particularly for an event hosted by the founder of a fossil fuel company.

Biden funded his campaign early and often with pricey fundraisers with trial lawyers. A one-time public defender, Biden brought in nearly $428,000 from employees at personal injury law firm Morgan & Morgan, thanks in large part to an expensive Florida fundraiser from the firm’s founder in May.

Lawyers and law firms are coming out in force to fund the top 2020 Democrats. Combined, Buttigieg, Biden and Harris collected more than $7.4 million from attorneys or lawyers — the rest of the Democratic field took in roughly $5.6 million combined.

Biden’s Florida fundraisers have also netted him an unusually high amount of cash from chiropractors — 85 percent of the total $216,000 chiropractors gave to 2020 Democrats went to Biden. Almost all of that money came from Florida-based donors in May — around the same time when Biden was hosting a series of fundraisers in the Sunshine State.

One potential issue for Biden is his lack of support from younger, well-paid donors. Software engineers, for example, gave just $30,485 to Biden while giving six figures to each of the other top-tier fundraisers in the field.

Harris may not be the top-tier fundraiser that Biden or Buttigieg are, but her California connections have provided her with wealthy donors ranging from Hollywood to Silicon Valley.

Harris took home 36 percent of contributions from those listing “venture capital” as their occupation. She also received one-third of all funds from producers — drawing from award-winning Hollywood producers such as Michael De Luca and Brian Grazer, among others. Harris is also the top recipient of campaign money from retirees — taking in more than $2 million.

Politico reported that Harris is shifting her strategy away from closed-door Golden State fundraisers and toward Iowa, the first state on the Democratic primary calendar. The move came as internal polls showed Harris’ poll numbers dropping in the Hawkeye State and as some wealthy donors reportedly expressed disappointment with her debate performance.


Researcher Alex Baumgart contributed to this report.

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2 Comments

  1. Larry Stout September 24, 2019

    Herd instinct and peer pressure seem to govern voter choices to a considerable extent. How else can we account for the apparent effectiveness of bumper-stickers and yard signs? (The bumper sticker declaring “Dr. Kevorkian for White House Physician” seems to have failed, however.)

    Reply
  2. Larry Stout September 24, 2019

    “Politics is concerned with herds rather than with individuals, and the passions which are important in politics are, therefore, those in which the various members of a given herd can feel alike. The broad instinctive mechanism upon which political edifices have to be built is one of cooperation within the herd and hostility towards other herds. The co-operation within the herd is never perfect. There are members who do not conform, who are, in the etymological sense, «egregious», that is to say, outside the flock. These members are those who have fallen below, or risen above, the ordinary level. They are: idiots, criminals, prophets, and discoverers. A wise herd will learn to tolerate the eccentricity of those who rise above the average, and to treat with a minimum of ferocity those who fall below it.”

    — Bertrand Russell

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