WASHINGTON — The presidential primary is jolting to life without a traditional mainstay: the big money donor class. More specifically, their contribution checks.
With as many as two dozen Democrats potentially running for the White House and no immediate front-runner, the money race in the early days of the primary is largely frozen, according to fundraisers. Though some donors have a preferred candidate, others who are spending are spreading their money across the field to hedge their bets. More often, donors are staying on the sidelines until the contours of the primary take shape.
“I’m not aware of anyone who is giving now,” said Andy Spahn, a Los Angeles-based fundraiser and conduit to Hollywood wealth who has been courted by multiple contenders. “People first want to know who will actually be in the race.”
The slow flow of campaign cash from the big money donor class coincides with a seismic shift in Democratic fundraising. Driven by a restive base that turned opposition to President Donald Trump into an unprecedented flood of small-dollar online contributions, some now question whether big money donors will continue to hold the same sway.
Take California Sen. Kamala Harris, who announced her presidential candidacy last week. In just 24 hours, her campaign reported raising $1.5 million online from 38,000 people. Beto O’Rourke, a potential 2020 contender, wowed Democrats last year by raising a whopping $80 million in his Texas Senate race — much of it online.
It’s a development, some argue, that has reduced the need to curry favor with well-heeled donors, a group that’s accustomed to being wined and dined.
“The Park Avenue cocktail parties are being replaced,” said Robert Zimmerman, a Democratic National Committeeman and fundraiser from New York, who believes it’s a positive development that will shift power to the party’s base. “I would advise my donor friends to not take it personally. They can have over-priced lobster salad among themselves.”