There is a measure of irony in the sudden attention to Bernie Sanders—long and loud in his criticism of big money in politics—as a fundraising virtuoso.
But that was the circumstance of the Vermont senator as his 2016 presidential campaign, which late Wednesday reported raising $26 million in the third quarter of 2015–just $2 million less than the $28 million reported by the campaign of Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton.
“Sanders nearly matches Clinton in fundraising for third quarter,” read the headline of a Washington Post report. “The ability of the senator from Vermont—who has largely eschewed wealthy backers and fancy fundraisers—to compete with Clinton’s four-decade-old donor network could drastically alter the dynamics of the primary contest.”
The New York Times reported, “Mr. Sanders is rapidly rewriting the rules for big-money fund-raising in a presidential campaign. He raised his [$26 million] with only a handful of fund-raising events. And while precise figures will not be available until the campaigns file formal paperwork with the Federal Election Commission this month, Mr. Sanders appears to be relying overwhelmingly on donors making small contributions.”
The Clinton campaign has raised far more money than Sanders so far in the overall campaign, and it remains on pace to meet a $100 million fundraising goal by the end of 2015. But the most telling comparison was another one noted by the Times: “Mr. Sanders has even outpaced Mr. Obama’s record-breaking campaign from 2008, reaching more than a million online contributions—a mark Mr. Obama did not pass until the Democratic primaries were underway in the winter of 2008, according to Obama fund-raising solicitations at the time. Mr. Sanders has also amassed 650,000 contributors, well more than Mr. Obama had at the comparable point in that campaign cycle.”
As a long-time critic of the current system for financing campaigns, Sanders usually finds himself in the position of criticizing big money in politics. Even as his campaign raced to increase its third-quarter total Wednesday, the senator was urging backers to “chip in $3 before the midnight [Federal Election Commission] deadline as a way of saying you have had enough of the billionaire class buying our elections.”