Trump Campaign Might Copy Sanders’s Small-Donor Fundraising Strategy

By
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a rally at the San Jose Convention Center in San Jose, California on June 2, 2016.
Maybe "crazy" Bernie isn't so crazy after all.Photo: JOSH EDELSON/This content is subject to copyright.

Donald Trump’s presidential campaign is turning to an unlikely source of inspiration for its fundraising strategy: erstwhile Democratic contender Bernie “Crazy Bernie” Sanders. Two major donors who were present at the first meeting of the presumptive Republican nominee’s national finance team at the Four Seasons told Reuters that the campaign would likely seek to emulate Sanders’s grassroots strategy of soliciting small donations from a large number of donors.

The pitch to this group in the room was a traditional pitch, but the backroom discussion was, because of this being a populist movement, there’s going to be significant outreach to, you know, those who give $1, $2, $20,” Trump Texas fundraising co-chairman Gaylord Hughey said. “There’s a huge opportunity there.”

In keeping with his principled opposition to the influence of big money in American politics, Sanders’s campaign eschewed large-donor fundraising and managed to raise more than $210 million through record-breaking donation drives that brought in contributions averaging $27 from more than 7.4 million individuals.

The Trump campaign is getting a late start on fundraising — and on building any kind of campaign infrastructure at all. The (alleged) billionaire real-estate tycoon relied on free media throughout the Republican primary, spending very little money on advertising. Last month, the campaign said it might not have much cash to defend itself against negative ads in the general election and would have to rely on the Republican National Committee for funds.

Trump had previously pledged to self-fund his campaign as a sign of his independence from the Establishment and moneyed interests (other than his own), but his supporters don’t seem to mind that he’s backtracked on that. Of course, given what else his supporters have overlooked, maybe he really could shoot a guy in the middle of Fifth Avenue and still count on their votes — and perhaps their piggy banks as well.