President Trump’s latest campaign fundraising haul highlights the growing financial dominance of the president’s reelection machine over a crowded Democratic field that is still taking shape.
In the first three months of 2019, Trump’s campaign and two affiliated committees raised $39 million, records made public Monday show — his best fundraising quarter since his election, according to the campaign and federal records.
That brings the sum raised by his 2020 campaign and the two committees to $168 million, the most ever raised by an incumbent president at this point.
The 16 Democratic primary candidates who began raising money in the first quarter together brought in $89.5 million from Jan. 1 until March 31, according to Federal Election Commission records made public Monday night. At this point in the 2008 election cycle, eight Democratic candidates had together raised $85.4 million.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) reported the biggest haul last quarter, with $18.2 million, followed by $12 million raised by Sen. Kamala D. Harris (Calif.) and $9.4 million collected by former congressman Beto O’Rourke (Tex.). Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Ind., raised $7 million — a large amount for a newcomer to national politics.
Four U.S. senators trailed Buttigieg: Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts ($6 million), Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota ($5.2 million), Cory Booker of New Jersey ($5.1 million) and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York ($3 million).
Behind them were businessman Andrew Yang ($2.4 million); Washington Gov. Jay Inslee ($2.3 million); former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper ($2.2 million); Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii ($2 million); author Marianne Williamson ($1.5 million); former housing and urban development secretary Julián Castro ($1.1 million); and Wayne Messam, mayor of Miramar, Fla. ($43,531).
Former Rep. John Delaney of Maryland reported a $12.1 million haul but had loaned himself $11.7 million of that amount.
Meanwhile, the Trump campaign and two affiliated committees spent more money than they raised in the first quarter of 2019, spending $47.5 million. Nearly $3 million of the expenses went to American Made Media Consultants. The firm was created by the campaign to purchase digital, radio and television advertisements, according to the New York Times.
The campaign spent about $700,000 on Parscale Strategy, a consulting firm run by Trump’s campaign manager, Brad Parscale, records show. The committees spent $351,017 at Trump properties, including $214,944 at Mar-a-Lago by Trump Victory, a joint fundraising committee.
Democratic strategists acknowledge Trump has built a formidable reelection operation with a large war chest. Trump’s campaign and two affiliated fundraising committees entered April with $49 million in cash, Federal Election Commission records show.
But Democrats said a fundraising advantage does not necessarily translate to victory, noting that Trump was outraised by GOP rivals and by Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Joel Benenson, who served as a top strategist for the campaigns of Clinton and President Barack Obama, said fundraising will pick up once front-runners emerge.
“Nobody would contest that there are advantages to incumbents,” he said, adding that Trump has ramped up his fundraising through tweets and rallies that galvanize his base.
“The challenge for Democratic candidates is how much grass-roots activism support” will coalesce around their candidacy, Benenson added.
For now, Trump’s fundraising pace is giving him an edge over the large pool of Democratic challengers that will take months for them to match.
Unlike past presidents, Trump began building his reelection machine shortly after taking office, bombarding supporters with fundraising solicitations and whipping up supporters at Make America Great Again rallies.
That has helped drive a large stream of donations that his campaign and the Republican National Committee are using to expand their volunteer programs across the country and develop a massive data operation.
The Trump campaign was among the largest political spenders on Facebook and Google advertisements during the 2018 cycle, according to a study by Tech for Campaigns, a group that helps Democratic candidates with digital outreach. That gives it the opportunity to constantly improve its ability to target and persuade voters online while some Democratic candidates are still hiring digital staff.
Trump has successfully tapped into both a loyal base of small-dollar donors and wealthy backers who are giving six-figure contributions to his campaign and the party. In addition, his allies are raising large donations for the pro-Trump super PAC America First Action and other big-money groups.
That provides the president an added boost over Democrats, who are facing pressure from voters on the left to eschew support from wealthy donors and super PACs, which can raise and spend unlimited money. About 55 percent of the money the campaign and affiliated committees raised in the first quarter came from donations under $200, FEC records show.
The focus by Democrats on low-dollar online donations has increased the pressure to hit their fundraising goals through texts, emails and tweets. Average online donations reported by campaigns ranged from $18 to $43.
Compounding the financial challenges for the Democrats is the weak fundraising by the national party, which is working to rebuild its donor base after a fractious 2016 primary.
Meanwhile, the RNC is continuing to haul in cash, thanks to the power of the Trump fundraising list.
The RNC brought in $45.8 million in the first quarter, the campaign said, its highest total for a first quarter in a non-election year.
The Democratic National Committee had $7.5 million in cash by the end of February 2019, compared with the RNC’s $31.1 million from the same reporting period.