May 24, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Pelosi doesn't deliver matching donations

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is seen walking through the U.S Capitol.

Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post/Bloomberg via Getty Images

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's campaign committee has repeatedly promised her donors she would personally match their financial contributions, but as of the last reporting period she hadn't provided a dime of her own money, records show.

Why it matters: Deceptive political fundraising tactics are under scrutiny, and few are more popular than donation-matching pledges. Pelosi's campaign has gone a step further than most — promising that she herself would put up those matching funds. It hasn't reported any such contributions.

What's happening: Nancy Pelosi for Congress sent at least 50 fundraising emails from January through March, pledging she would "personally" match contributions up to a certain multiple.

  • That's according to an Axios analysis of a political email archive maintained by researchers at Princeton University.
  • "This is so critical, I’m personally 4x-matching all gifts for these final 24 hours," declared a typical email, sent in Pelosi's voice in January.
  • Yet reports filed with the Federal Election Commission show Pelosi did not donate any personal funds to her campaign during the first quarter, nor has she ever done so.

Between the lines: Both parties use donation-matching offers to woo small-dollar contributors. Few actually say who is matching the donations, and some of the pledges could require matchers to exceed federal contribution limits themselves.

  • Federal law, though, allows candidates to provide unlimited sums to their own campaigns. Pelosi, whose net worth is estimated to be in the nine figures, could theoretically put up the matching funds offered in her campaign's solicitations.
  • Her campaign raised just over $4 million in the first quarter of 2021. It's not clear how much its matching-offer solicitations generated, but more than half of the Q1 haul came from donations of under $200 — the sorts of small-dollar contributions those types of fundraising emails generally target.
  • A spokesperson for Pelosi's campaign did not respond to multiple requests from Axios for comment about the matching offers or whether she planned to provide the promised funds.

According to a separate database of political emails maintained by the Defending Democracy Together Institute, Pelosi's personal matching offers continued through at least last week.

  • The last one came Wednesday — the same day Axios first asked her campaign for comment.

The big picture: Donation-matching is one of a number of popular fundraising gimmicks, yet critics say that in most cases, it's doubtful any actual matching occurs.

  • The Justice Department recently signaled it considers such offers to be legally questionable if donations aren't actually matched as promised.
  • Other tactics, such as underhanded efforts to lock donors into recurring contributions, have also drawn scrutiny from federal regulators of late.
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