Senator Bernie Sanders delivers a speech on 'democratic socialism' at Georgetown University on November 19, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post)

Bernie Sanders's campaign told The Post's John Wagner on Wednesday that the Vermont senator has received more than 2 million individual donations. Many donors have given multiple times, meaning that the number of individual donors is itself nearing 1 million in total.

So is that a lot, or what? One million people is more than have ever given me money, for example, but is it more than have ever given to anyone? How much of an outlier is Sanders, exactly?

That's a surprisingly hard question to answer.

The Federal Election Commission compiles data on contributions made to candidates, allowing us to get some sense of what's normal. Excluding contributions to the two parties and their congressional campaign arms, here are the campaigns with the most individual contributions since 1980.


At the top is the 2008 Obama campaign, understandably, followed by his 2012 race. (There are occasionally multiple committees associated with campaigns, so some candidate-cycle combinations show up multiple times.) Obama's 2012 campaign committee actually got enough contributions in the 2014 midterm cycle to make the top 50.

And now the "yes, buts" come pouring in. This is contributions, not contributors, meaning that people who gave multiple times are included multiple times. What's more, it excludes donors who gave too little to need to be reported. Campaigns only have to itemize contributions from contributors that meet a certain threshhold ($200 currently); if not, the FEC doesn't get the data. Sanders's campaign counts these unitemized donations, but the chart above can’t.

Look at 2012, for example. That year, the Obama campaign reported tallying more than 4 million individual donors. The Campaign Finance Institute, which also compiles this data, figured that Obama had 813,402 individual donors through December 2012. The FEC report for that cycle, though, only has about 437,000 contributions.


That's a wide gap, and we're largely left taking Obama's word for it.

We're comparing apples and oranges here, of course. Bernie Sanders has at least another few months to raise money; naturally he has fewer donors than Barack Obama had at the end of 2012.

It also makes sense that Sanders would be among those with the most all-time donors simply for the fact that he's running for president. It's usually presidential candidates that garner the most individual donors in a presidential cycle; after all, everyone in the country has a direct interest in the outcome. During off-year elections, the most contributions were usually given to party campaign committees. (The exception? Ed Zschau's 1986 senate race in California.)


Incidentally, that ActBlue in 2016 -- the committee that's got the most contributions so far this cycle -- is raising money for a guy named Bernie Sanders.