LOS ANGELES — The legacy of Bernie Sanders’ 2016 fundraising juggernaut is already shaping the architecture of the next presidential campaign.
Sanders has not yet said if he will run again in 2020. But two years after the Vermont senator demonstrated the potency of a populist message married to an online, small-dollar operation — he raised $54 million in donations of $200 or less by the end of 2015 alone — Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and other top 2020 Democratic prospects are applying lessons drawn directly from his experience.
Harris recently became the latest potential presidential candidate to pledge to no longer accept money from corporate political action committees — a move adopted by an increasing number of progressive Democrats who calculate that they have more to gain than lose by forgoing corporate PAC money.
But Harris’ decision also reflected a broader — potentially more significant — effort to fortify her small-donor fundraising strategy ahead of the 2020 election.
She’s spending aggressively to bolster her digital campaign infrastructure and cultivate supporters online, creating a template that resembles the one that served Sanders so well against Hillary Clinton.
“People see a potential in terms of digital fundraising, so I’m not surprised to see some of our younger, more ambitious members moving on that front – especially members who, part of their base or appeal is to younger voters,” said Jaime Harrison, associate chair of the Democratic National Committee and a former South Carolina state party chair.
Tracing the evolution of online fundraising to Howard Dean in 2004, Harrison said, “I just continue to see the bar continuing to move up.”