Bernie Sanders raises an eye-popping $18.2 million in first quarter, topping Democratic field so far

Another prolific fundraiser, former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke, hasn't yet disclosed his haul. Will it rival Sanders?

Published April 2, 2019 3:39PM (EDT)

Bernie Sanders   (AP/Elaine Thompson)
Bernie Sanders (AP/Elaine Thompson)

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont announced Tuesday that his presidential campaign raised $18.2 million in the first quarter of 2019 — an eye-popping sum that places the self-described democratic socialist among the top fundraisers so far in the 2020 Democratic primary field.

Sanders, who announced that he was forging a second bid for the White House in February, had already demonstrated the established power of his fundraising machine, raising nearly $6 million in the first 24 hours after launching his campaign. In his first week on the trail, the progressive firebrand took in $10 million.

Sanders' campaign manager, Faiz Shakir, said the senator's first-quarter fundraising total was made up of roughly 900,000 individual donations from 525,000 people across all U.S. states and territories. The campaign said the average contribution size was $20 — a figure that is lower and powered by a higher number of donations than the  $27 average the senator repeatedly touted in his first bid for the White House in 2016. Sanders is likely to praise the $20 figure, given the growing emphasis on small-dollar donations in Democratic politics. The average age for Sanders's donors was 39-years-old, the campaign said, and nearly all donations raised were made online.

The fundraising numbers, which cover the period from Jan. 1 to March 31, puts Sanders' total cash on hand at $28 million, including funds from existing campaign accounts. It surpasses the amount Sanders raised in the first quarter of his first bid for the presidency in 2016, when he pulled in $15.2 million.

Candidates are required by law to track and disclose their fundraising reports to the Federal Election Commission, and those donations collected in the first quarter must be reported by April 15. Candidates are limited to collecting $2,800 from a single donor during the primary election.

Sanders has established himself as a national figurehead for socialist ideas by pushing proposals, including breaking up the largest Wall Street banks, a "Medicare for All" healthcare system, a $15-an-hour minimum wage, tuition-free college and university education and paid family leave. He has also pledged not to accept money from special interests or corporate political action committees (PACs). (Nearly every Democrat in the 2020 election cycle has vowed to reject corporate PAC donations — some have even gone a step further and promised to swear off all PAC money — and have stressed the importance of grassroots support and low-dollar contributions in their fundraising efforts.)

Several Democrats in the 2020 race, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, have embraced some of Sanders' progressive ideas, suggesting the success of his second White House could depend on whether voters believe he is the best messenger for the ideas he helped popularize among progressives.

Sanders on Tuesday became the third Democratic presidential hopeful to announce an estimate of his or her first quarter fundraising total. Pete Buttigieg, the 37-year-old Democratic mayor of South Bend, Indiana, announced Monday that his presidential campaign raised $7 million in the first quarter of 2019, while Sen. Kamala Harris of California said she raked in $12 million.

Another prolific fundraiser, former Texas congressman Beto O'Rourke, has yet to disclose his first-quarter total. That number is expected to rival Sanders' haul. In his first 24 hours as a Democratic presidential candidate, O'Rourke said his campaign had raised $6.1 million — the largest initial fundraising total of any 2020 Democratic contender who disclosed his or her figures.

By Shira Tarlo

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All Salon Bernie Sanders Faiz Shakir Federal Election Commission Kamala Harris Pacs Pete Buttigieg