Raising money for the 2024 campaigns is already well under way. I recently received invitations to two fundraisers for the Democratic Grassroots Victory Fund sent from the Deputy National Finance Chair of the DNC. I had to look twice to see if I was reading it right. One in New York with President Biden and one in Philadelphia with both the president and Vice President Harris. The cost to attend a reception, not a meal, and have a photo opportunity, was $36,500 per person. You could become a host for $100,000.
I remember helping to arrange a fundraiser for President Obama’s reelection campaign on Sept. 30, 2012. It was held at a friend’s home in Georgetown. The cost to attend was $35,000 a couple, and it was for dinner and a photo op, and $5,000 per person for a reception with the president before the dinner. The reception was planned in conjunction with the Human Rights Campaign. So, in 10 years the price has more than doubled and no meal. The allowed personal contribution to an individual federal candidate has also gone up to $3,300 for a primary and $3,300 for the general election. So the same kind of reception we did would now cost $6,600 per person. Guess that is what they mean by inflation.
In the last 10 years we have seen the amount raised in small online contributions increase dramatically. Anyone who has ever given even $5 to a Nancy Pelosi email request for donations now sees hundreds of more emails in their in-box on a regular basis. I would urge anyone responding to one of those to read it very carefully. Many of them say they are for a particular candidate, but if you read the small print, you find the candidate only gets a very small percentage of what you donate. Most of it goes to a PAC, and often ends up in the pockets of consultants.
Democrats are very generous. But the reality is we end up donating millions to what are sure to be losing races. The current DNC Chair, Jamie Harrison, raised $104 million in his primary and general election for the Senate in South Carolina, which he predictably lost to Lindsay Graham by 12%. In what was called a long-shot campaign, Democratic candidate Marcus Flowers raised more than $15.6 million in his effort to defeat Marjorie Taylor Greene. He lost by 31 points. Giving money to him, thinking he could win in that District, is surely the definition of insanity.
There is also a lot of dark money going into campaigns. But with the increase in small donations, it is definitely harder for the big money people to have influence. I remember when the Clintons were attacked for inviting some big donors to sleep in the Lincoln bedroom in the White House as a thank you for donations. Surely Biden doesn’t have to do that. But as the dollar requests go up for a picture with the president, those donors will at least expect an audience with someone in the administration.
Now in some ways the pandemic was a lucky break for President Biden when it came to campaigning and raising money in 2020. He had an excuse not to do photo ops, or any in-person events, and still raised incredible amounts of money. In August of 2020 alone, he raised a record-shattering $364 million, for combined Democratic committees. I did my little bit in 2020 and was on a list of 800 bundlers released by the Biden campaign — those who raised more than $100,000 for the campaign. I don’t know about the others on the list, but I haven’t received any special favors for this, and didn’t even receive my usual Christmas card from the White House. What I do get are regular email and snail mail requests from the DNC for more money. Also, that bundler list is shared far and wide. Along with my email that list apparently has my phone number. So, when every Democratic candidate around the nation gets the list, I am inundated not only with emails but with text messages on my phone.
I recently received a phone call from a reporter I know at NBC news. She wanted to know what I got for my donation to the campaign and what I thought of how President Biden was handling his donor politics. I went off the record and said, ‘terribly.’ I haven’t received anything and a major donor through me didn’t get anything either. Recently, through friends who are working in the administration, I was invited to three events on the White House lawn. Now that the pandemic is easing this is how masses of people get to go to the White House. I guess the people who arrange them are out of practice as the two I went to were not well planned. Those there were clearly not invited based on their donation levels, except maybe the few in the front section with seats. I definitely was not one of those.
The first event was the celebration of the Deficit Reduction Act. It was a very hot day and they did have some water stations. But they didn’t have any Jumbotrons, or a raised stage, so no one toward the back, and there were hundreds, could see what was happening. You could hear, but couldn’t see the president, or the entertainer of the day, who happened to be James Taylor. He is of the president’s and my generation, and I think he is great. But I asked many of the millennials standing around me if they knew who he was, and they all said no.
The second event was the signing of the Respect for Marriage Act. I was proud to be there based on my work for marriage equality. It was held on a very cold day. Once again, no Jumbotrons and no stage, so again anyone in the back simply saw hundreds of people in front of them holding up iPhones trying to get a picture over the heads of others. I was lucky to stand next to a tall person who could hold the phone higher. The entertainment for the mostly LGBTQ audience was more appropriate, Sam Smith and Cyndi Lauper. The third event, which some friends invited me to as their guest, was the concert by Elton John, which I didn’t attend. I understand there were Jumbotrons but then the event was paid for by the A&E networks and the History Channel for possible broadcast. So maybe the time when bundlers, or bigger donors, can expect a reception in the White House for raising or giving more than $100,000, or a reception photo-op for $6,600 is over.
I am not looking for anything and I can only imagine what kind of money will be needed, and raised, for campaigns in 2024. Or what mega-donors will expect or receive for their donations. My only hope is whatever money is raised is spent wisely so Democrats win. It is clear the 2024 campaign dash-for-cash is well underway.
Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.