Feb 1, 2020 - Politics & Policy

The 2020 Democratic candidates winning the money game

Data: 2019 FEC filings. Donations do not include funds from political committees or the candidates themselves. Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios
Data: 2019 FEC filings. Donations do not include funds from political committees or the candidates themselves. Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

In a primary race stacked with billionaires, the candidates raising the most money don't necessarily have all the same advantages.

Between the lines: Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer are easily able to outspend and outlast any other 2020 campaign. But while fundraising numbers show how powerful and long-lasting a campaign could be in a long election cycle, they are also a sign of support and excitement around a candidate — something money can't always buy.

By the numbers: In 2019, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Mayor Pete Buttigieg raised the most money from individual donations, which doesn't include money from political committees or the candidates themselves, according to new FEC data filed Friday night.

  • Sanders raised $60.6 million from individuals who gave less than $200 each to the campaign — more than any other candidate. He's long championed this kind of grassroots, small-dollar fundraising. It gives a picture of his strong support among average American voters, as opposed to wealthy donors who can afford to give thousands of dollars to politics.
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Andrew Yang join Sanders as the three candidates who received more than half of their campaign money in 2019 from small-dollar (less than $200) donations.
  • In contrast, Buttigieg raised more money from large donations ($200+) than any other candidate. He's come under fire, particularly from Warren, for a lack of transparency around his large-dollar fundraising. He promised in December to start letting reporters attend fundraising events.

The other side: The billionaires are playing a whole different game. 99.9% of all the money brought into Bloomberg's campaign came from Bloomberg himself, with the remaining 0.1% coming from a category titled "Other Receipts (Dividends, Interest, etc)." In just over one month, he spent more than two times as much as Sanders in all of 2019. He also spent more than the Trump campaign did all last year..

  • Steyer, who jumped into the race before Bloomberg, gave $202.5 million to his own campaign in 2019, out of a total of $206.3 million brought in.
  • The other $4 million came after he decided to pursue enough donors to qualify for earlier debates.
Data: 2019 FEC filings; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: 2019 FEC filings; Chart: Axios Visuals

What to watch: Biden has raised and spent less money than other frontrunners, and he is starting off 2020 with the least amount of money on hand out of the top 5 candidates. But he has remained the candidate to beat in national polls since even before he announced his candidacy.

  • While money can't buy you the White House, Bloomberg has surpassed Buttigieg in national polls just two months after officially announcing his presidential bid — squeaking into the top four, according to Real Clear Politics.
  • Businessman Yang managed to out-raise and out-spend Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who snatched one of the New York Times' endorsements. But Yang's standing in the polls has changed little — he failed to qualify for the last Democratic debate and is starting the year off with less money than any other candidate Axios analyzed.

Go deeper: 2020 presidential election: Track the candidates

Go deeper