Election 2020

Bernie, Kamala, and Probably Beto Raised More Money in the First Quarter Than Gary Johnson Did During Entire 2016 Campaign

Sobering reminder for all current and future Libertarians: A previously unknown mayor from a midsized Indiana college town will soon shatter the high-water fundraising numbers for America's third party.


||| Staton Rabin/ZUMA Press/Newscom
Staton Rabin/ZUMA Press/Newscom

The first quarter for presidential campaign fundraising ended March 31, and though the reporting deadline is April 15, three candidates have already spilled digits:

* Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.) has raised $18 million from 900,000 donors.

* Sen. Kamala Harris (D–Calif.) has raised $12 million from 218,000 donors.

* Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D) of South Bend, Indiana, has raised $7 million from 159,000 donors.

Now, there's a whole lot that we don't know yet, including how much the campaigns spent on acquiring those donations (or on other activities), and, obviously, the totals from the other 368 people running for president. Beto O'Rourke, to name one competitor, raised $6.1 million from 128,000 donors in the first 24 hours of his campaign, narrowly topping Sanders's initial $5.9 million from 223,000; he'll likely be north of Harris. (APRIL 3 UPDATE: This prediction turned out wrong; O'Rourke ended up with $9.4 million from 218,000 donors during the quarter.) There's also the issue of differential timing:

Meanwhile, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) is facing fundraising challenges that have already led in part to her finance director resigning. All this furious interest at a time when even recent campaign cycles were in their embryonic stages:

Still, we can make one assertion with confidence: In just the first three months of the year before the election, several 2020 Democratic contenders will shatter the record fundraising haul over the entirety of the 2016 campaign by Libertarian Gary Johnson.

||| Matt Welch
Matt Welch

Johnson and running mate Bill Weld in 2016 raised over $11 million—the Federal Elections Commission says $11.2 million; OpenSecrets has it at $11.9 million (neither included total number of donors). The money dwarfed Johnson's 2012 haul of just under $2 million, and cleared by a comfortable margin the inflation-adjusted 1980 total for Ed Clark and David Koch of $7.7 million in 2016 dollars (of which a reported $6.2 million came from Koch himself).

So the Libertarian Party glass-half-full interpretation is, getta load of those great trendlines, both in presidential fundraising and votes! The half-empty analysis, on the other hand, is brutal: The largely unknown 37-year-old mayor of the country's 301st largest city, currently polling at around seventh place and in the low single digits, will likely break the L.P.'s all-time presidential fundraising record more than 17 months before the 2020 election. When two-party emotions run high, nontraditional candidates die.

Or maybe not! Predicting anything in American politics is a mug's game, and who knows what, say, a Justin Amash Libertarian presidential candidacy could do to the cruel fundraising math of 2019. Speaking of which, here's a long Michigan Live profile from this week on the libertarian Republican's L.P. flirtation, and also Kennedy asked Amash about it on her eponymous Fox Business Network program last night: