Jul 20, 2022 - Podcasts

The GOP’s losing battle for grassroots donors

With the midterms less than four months away, Republicans are lagging behind Democrats in grassroots fundraising: In the 10 most competitive Senate races, Democrats are out raising Republicans by more than $100 million with small dollar donors.

  • Plus, police monitoring private surveillance video.
  • And, the House votes to protect same-sex marriage.

Guests: Axios' Lachlan Markay and Ina Fried

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Lydia McMullen-Laird, Alex Sugiura, and Ben O'Brien. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Wednesday, July 20th.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Today: police monitoring private surveillance video. Plus: the House votes to protect same-sex marriage.

But first, the GOP’s losing battle for the small-dollar political donor… is today’s One Big Thing.

NIALA: With the midterms less than four months away, Republicans are lagging way behind Democrats in grassroots fundraising. Democrats in the 10 most competitive Senate races are outraising Republicans by more than $100 million with small dollar donors. Axios political reporter Lachlan Markay is tracking GOP fundraising efforts. Hey Lachlan.

LACHLAN MARKAY: Hey, how you doing?

NIALA: Lachlan, why are Democrats appealing more to grassroots donors?

LACHLAN: You know, they've had more success at this small dollar fundraising for a while. We really saw it in the 2020 cycle. Their Senate candidates in particular were raising massive sums through donations of under $200. Republicans have seen some success there, in particular former President Donald Trump has been particularly successful in candidates who can successfully tie themselves to his brand uh, also do pretty well. But in general, Democrats are much more successful at courting that amount of small dollar support. The explanations for that can vary depending on who you talk to, but the most common one is generally that Democrats have just been a cycle or two ahead over the last 20 years in developing their digital infrastructure. And that's really where you see a lot of the most potent small-dollar fundraising operations.

NIALA: How are Republicans doing with big donors?

LACHLAN: So generally, they are raising way more money. You know, most of the biggest donors this cycle in terms of just the sheer amount they're giving are Republicans. Folks like Ken Griffin, Charles Schwab, folks like that are giving, you know, millions or even tens of millions of dollars. So they're out raising both of their democratic competitors. The RNC, the NRCC, the NRSC, they're all raising record sums. So when it comes to high dollar donors, Republicans continue to do very well.

NIALA: Lachlan, you mentioned former President Trump who has had quite a bit of success with small donations. How does that though fit into this midterm cycle?

LACHLAN: He's been extremely successful. He's raised, his political operation’s raised about 60 million in small dollar donations since last year. And a lot of Republicans worry that that's actually hurting the rest of the party's ability to fundraise this cycle. And in particular, the ability of candidates who are actually facing an election in November, unlike Donald Trump. You know, the tactics and the volume of his digital operation has really crowded out a lot of the rest of the Republican field.

NIALA: So Democrats appealing more to grassroots donors and raising more money from small dollar donors. Does that tell us anything meaningful about the midterm elections at this point?

LACHLAN: It's hard to draw conclusions in terms of voter enthusiasm, or, certainly, it's not a proxy for poll numbers or anything like that. But I think, you know, again, it goes back to each party's ability to build a digital and particularly a digital infrastructure, but really a larger political infrastructure that can harness this sort of force multiplier that is, you know, the small dollar donor program. So Democrats really have that figured out. Republicans have been trying to figure it out and they've been putting a lot of money into figuring it out this, this year and last year. These numbers just show they aren't there and, until they can sort of reach parody, it's gonna be really difficult, not necessarily for the national Republican groups, because they're doing, you know, very well from their larger donors, but for individual candidates, it's gonna be hard for them to compete in the fundraising game unless they figure that out. You know, every single election cycle we are in, sets a new record for the most expensive election cycle in American history. So, it only gets more expensive, you know, virtually every part of campaigning now is requiring significant sums.

NIALA: Lachlan Markay covers money and influence in politics at Axios. Thanks Lachlan.

LACHLAN: Thank you.

NIALA: The House yesterday passed a bill that would federally protect same-sex and interracial marriages. The Respect for Marriage Act passed with bipartisan support, and heads now to the Senate, where its future is more uncertain. I asked Axios’ Andrew Solender for the big picture:

ANDREW SOLENDER: So this bill got support from 47 house Republicans, which is a significant chunk of the 211 member conference, which has historically opposed bills concerning LGBTQ policies such as gay marriage. But obviously the issue hasn't been tested since the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in a 2015 ruling nationwide. Democrats now are trying to preempt, what they believe is a threat to same-sex marriage and potentially other rights by the 6-3 conservative court. And so, they're bringing this issue back to the fore and forcing Republicans to take a stance on it. Axios spoke to more than 20 Republicans last week and all of them declined to state a position. We'll see pretty soon whether the votes are there, from the relative moderates in the Senate, to pass this.

NIALA: Andrew Solender is a congressional reporter for Axios.

NIALA: In a moment: San Francisco police push to monitor private surveillance video.

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today. I'm Niala Boodhoo. San Francisco police have proposed a plan to monitor private surveillance video from businesses and even people's homes. That's got critics up in arms about the privacy violations and the many ways these kinds of videos could be used. Axios’ Ina Fried has the story for us. Ina, first, I think it's important to note this plan isn't in place yet, but this is something San Francisco police are pushing for. So what exactly would this allow them to do?

INA: So San Francisco has an existing law that requires any city agency to come to the board of supervisors if they want to change or create a plan to look at surveillance video. And so, what the San Francisco police have proposed is pretty sweeping access to private videos. So this is cameras that neighborhoods have put in place, business improvement districts, as well as potentially the ring doorbell cams and the public-facing, street-facing cameras that many homes have. So what they're saying is we'd like to use that and they're not putting a lot of limits on how they might use it. Uh, the supervisors have to approve it and a bunch of amendments have been proposed that would limit how they use it, who they share it with, how long they keep it. But the proposal as it stands is pretty open ended.

NIALA: Have we seen similar actions by other police departments?

INA: It's a little unique in that twofold: one, they have to go to the city for approval, so they can't just do it. What we are seeing is a lot of police departments asking for that video, asking for ring footage for a particular case. The live surveillance aspect I think is one of the most troubling aspects, particularly in this case because when these cameras were installed, and I think this is instructive nationwide, when these business improvement districts installed these cameras a few years back, residents were actually promised that they would not be used for police surveillance.

NIALA: You know, there was recent news that Amazon, which owns Ring, recently has handed footage from ring cameras over to police without any kind of warrant. So is this already happening in some places and without people knowing?

INA: It is happening generally in much more limited circumstances. I mean, 11 times is alarming, but it's only 11 nationally. So police already can get access to various kinds of footage in, you know, extremely urgent situations where life is at stake. Critics say, they're the ones who decide that, there's no oversight, so there's problems there. But this would allow it on a much more routine and sweeping basis.

NIALA: What other kind of efforts are we seeing to curb this kind of surveillance then?

INA: One of the things we're seeing is a push for national legislation. Right now, there is no federal legislation particularly covering facial recognition, but also around surveillance video around how it can be collected, how it can be shared. And this growing divide between the owner not having anything to do with the people being captured. So maybe I get the owner's consent, but that's not the people who are on the tape, and that's increasingly true. If you look at something like autonomous vehicles, for example, which sounds totally unrelated until you realize that these cars have tons of cameras and are recording everything around them. Now they need that to do their job, but privacy advocates would say there also need to be strict limits that keep it from being turned into surveillance 24/7 rolling around your neighborhood.

NIALA: Ina Fried is Axios’ chief technology correspondent. Thanks Ina.

INA: Thanks Niala.

NIALA: That’s it for us today! I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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