For a self-avowed socialist, Bernie Sanders is extremely good at making money.
Within 24 hours of his victory in New Hampshire, the Vermont senator’s campaign raked in more than $6 million in new contributions, doubling its previous record for a single day of fund-raising. That haul puts Sanders in prime position to out-raise Hillary Clinton for a second straight month — a prospect that once seemed about as likely as a former reality star becoming the Republican front-runner.
Sanders has raised far more money through small-dollar donations than any other 2016 candidate. By the end of 2015, the insurgent had taken in $54 million in contributions of $200 or less, accounting for 72 percent of his total fund-raising. Clinton, by contrast, raised roughly $18.5 million from small-dollar donors, with the rest of her $116 million war chest coming from big spenders.
This week, Sanders plans to redistribute $1 million from those middle-class donors to Nevada television stations. According to Ralston Reports, Sanders’s big new ad-buy brings his total spending on the Silver State’s airwaves to $3.6 million — twice Clinton’s investment.
The central premise of the Sanders candidacy is that unabashed economic populism can mobilize disengaged voters and sweep a democratic socialist into the White House. That premise may still seem far-fetched, but Sanders has already proven that such populism can mobilize yuge amounts of contributions. If the senator achieves nothing else in his 2016 run, he will have illustrated the financial benefits of refusing large corporate donations. As Politico’s Kenneth Vogel argues, Sanders’s great fund-raising innovation has been been turning his method of bankrolling into a central plank of his campaign.
“It’s more than a means to an end,” Vogel writes. “It is the purpose of his campaign — the vehicle for regular people to buy into the idea that they can fight back against a moneyed elite that has tilted the scales against them.”
That vehicle has proven popular enough to keep a septuagenarian socialist — one opposed by virtually every institution and elected official in his party — competitive in the money primary with one of the best-bankrolled Establishment candidates in American political history.
Sanders is a long way from enacting his vision of campaign-finance reform. But the socialist senator may be outlining a free-market solution to runaway corporate giving — turning down Wall Street money appears to sell quite well.