Reversal of Fortune in Fundraising

In a column for The Hill, Markos Moulitsas pens some characteristic thunder and lightning about the GOP’s reliance on Koch Brothers lucre in this and other election cycles, but also notes something of importance that’s been happening for a good long while: Democrats have replaced Republicans as the party of small donors.

While Republicans are increasingly reliant on a small cadre of super-donors, Democrats have cultivated a strong grassroots fundraising operation. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has raised nearly $114 million this cycle, compared to about $92 million at the National Republican Congressional Committee, despite being 35 seats in the gerrymandered minority. As of early June, 41 percent of the DCCC’s money came from contributions below $200, or $46 million. In comparison, the NRCC raised just $17 million from small-dollar donors, or 19 percent.

I can tell you this didn’t used to be the case at all. For decades the GOP relied heavily on small donors–the stereotypical “little old ladies in tennis shoes” of the Goldwater movement and their successors–and Democrats struggled to make up for that advantage by snuggling up to bigger donors, which didn’t always fit in with their principles.

It’s hard to say whether this reversal of fortune with small donors is more attributable to GOP toadying to business interests or to the slowly but steadily increasing tone of Democratic “populism.” And a small donor base obviously can’t do much to match the “outside” spending by the Kochs and others which they use to offset regulated campaign contributions. But it’s still a nice credential for the party that claims to be the Party of the People.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.