Over the past couple of days, several 2020 presidential campaigns released preliminary fundraising numbers for the first quarter of the year. (These numbers are self-reported, and we won’t be able to verify them until the April 15 Federal Election Commission filing deadline.)
The campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said it raised $18.2 million since his February campaign announcement. But a lot of attention has focused on how much South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg brought in, especially compared with Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D.-Calif.).
Harris, who launched her campaign for the presidency in late January, raised $12 million in the first quarter. About half came from digital donations, according to her campaign. Buttigieg, who kicked off his exploratory committee around the same time, raised $7 million in the first quarter, according to his campaign.
Pundits are already painting Buttigieg’s fundraising as a win.
As CNN’s Chris Cillizza tweeted: “The $12 million for Harris makes Buttigieg’s $7 million look that much better.”
Esquire’s Ryan Lizza put it this way: “The Kamala D. Harris fundraising numbers drive home just how impressive Pete Buttigieg’s fundraising numbers are. He is mayor of a city of 100,000 and had 159,000 donors. She is a U.S. senator with 40 million constituents and had 218,000 donors.”
But while Harris has held public office for longer and is in a much more high-profile position, she faces some challenges that Buttigieg does not.
Research shows that women — and, in particular, women of color such as Harris — face challenges that white men do not when it comes to attracting financial support for their political aspirations.
The Washington Post’s Elise Viebeck has written about these challenges:
“Scholars have found that women exhibit more negative attitudes toward fundraising and express more concerns about attracting donors, to the point that it can deter some from running for office in the first place. Once they enter a race, women devote more time and effort to fundraising compared with their male peers: Because they typically raise more money from small contributions of less than $200, women have to build bigger networks to gather the same amount.”
Kimberly Peeler-Allen, co-founder of Higher Heights, a political action committee that helps black women get elected to office, told The Fix that black women seeking office often have a harder time than white men in getting people to invest in their campaign.
“I think a lot of it has to do with our perception of what leadership looks like. For umpteen years, the majority of elected leaders have been white and male,” she said. “You come and counter that with a woman — and a woman of color, and a black woman at that — seeking the highest office in the land, it’s something out of the norm.”
That means it can take donors some time to take these candidates seriously.
“One of the challenges is that black women are not seen as statewide executives often because we have not seen black women at the top of the tickets,” she said. “But once you’re able to make that shift, you can make other adjustments, like what does it take to get a black woman into the governor’s mansion or the White House?”
Harris and her supporters have also said that she has gotten less coverage than the white men running against her, including former congressman Beto O’Rourke (D-Tex.) and Sanders. Both men have raised significantly more in daily averages than has Harris.
But Peeler-Allen said Harris’s numbers communicate to those watching that she is viable and capable of leading at the highest levels. Publicizing how much support she has could lead to more support, helping her reach new voters with her message and ideas.