Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, and now Beto O’Rourke have reported very large multi-million dollar fund-raising totals for the opening weeks and more of their campaigns, and all of them racked up these amounts from scores of thousands of small dollar donors. In 2016, there was a sharp contrast between Clinton’s old-style reliance on big money donors and bundlers and Bernie’s reliance famously on donors averaging $27 a pop. This time around, all the early serious candidates are going the Bernie route. This is politically important for many reasons, none of which I have to detail here as all of us, I assume, are aware of them. But there is one point that may be missed.
Modern American political campaigns are not actually very expensive. A presidential campaign these days can easily cost one billion dollars. That is $100 each from ten million donors. $100 is what a night at the movies costs for a family of four, by the time you add in the nachos and the super-sized drinks. It is 5% of what Americans spend on Valentine’s Day. If the present ground level enthusiasm on the Democratic side persists, the leading candidates will have no trouble raising enough money to carry on through the primaries, nor will the nominee lack for funds to wage a full-scale campaign.