Politics & Government

Loyal Democratic donors: We’re done with the DNC ‘until they get their act together’

While Democratic donors have eagerly opened their wallets ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, helping Democratic candidates and groups largely outraise their Republican counterparts, one notable exception has stood out: The Democratic National Committee — the party’s signature organization — has posted its worst midterm fund raising totals in more than a decade.

The DNC has so far taken in $116 million before the November midterm elections — $9 million less than it had taken in at this point in 2014 and more than $30 million less than it had taken in at this point in 2010, the last two midterm cycles.

By contrast, the Republican National Committee has nearly doubled the DNC’s haul this cycle, bringing in a total of $227 million. And of the six major federal committees of both parties, the DNC has by far the most debt ($6.7 million) and the least amount in its bank account ($7.8 million).

After 2016’s defeat of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton by Donald Trump, many of the group’s most consistent donors are putting their money elsewhere. A McClatchy analysis found that more than 200 donors who had given more than $1,000 to the DNC in each of the past two midterm elections have failed to pony up any cash to the DNC this time around, despite continuing to support other Democratic groups and candidates.

The poor showing could limit the DNC’s ability to provide support, such as direct financial contributions or get-out-the-vote assistance, to candidates and state parties in November. And it puts them at a disadvantage heading into the 2020 presidential cycle where the committee will play an even larger role.

Helen Schafer, a retired teacher in Fresno, Calif., who had given $7,000 to the DNC over the past five election cycles, said she lost faith in the committee after 2016.

So this time around, she contributed more than $4,000 to liberal groups such as End Citizens United and Progressive Turnout Project through the Democratic fundraising group ActBlue, as well as more than $1,500 to House Majority PAC, a Democratic group aimed at returning the U.S. House to Democratic control.

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“I kind of blame them for the defeat in 2016,” Schafer said of the DNC. “I know that’s unreasonable and there were a lot of factors, but I’m not sure their leadership is as strong as it used to be.”

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida who served as party chairman in 2016, was roundly criticized for seeming to favor Clinton over Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, a Vermont senator, and was held partly responsible for the publication of private emails by Wikileaks.

Deborah Carey, the founder of the New Glarus Brewing Company in Wisconsin, was also upset with the way the DNC and the Clinton campaign handled the last election. So far in 2018, she’s donated to congressional candidates in her home state, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. But after giving at least $2,000 to the DNC the last four election cycles, she said the committee can’t rely on her dollars like it used to.

“I might give to them if they get their act together,” Carey said, adding that she wants to see a “thoughtful and organized Democratic platform” heading into the 2020 elections.

The DNC’s fundraising woes come in a cycle where Democratic candidates have outraised Republican candidates overall, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, and Democratic political action committees have outraised Republican PACs, according to McClatchy’s analysis of fundraising totals of the top 100 non-party PACs.

As Democrats seek to regain control of the House, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has outraised the DNC by $75 million.

In response, the DNC noted that more than 98 percent of its donations were less than $200 and that it’s using its e-mail list to raise money directly for candidates this cycle.

“Democratic candidates, committees and the progressive ecosystem are seeing record amounts of contributions, all to help elect Democrats up and down the ticket,” said DNC communications director Xochitl Hinojosa.

Some of the party’s most generous donors have shifted their money elsewhere this cycle, like Chicago publishing executive Fred Eychaner, who has given $2 million each to two super political action committees — the House and Senate Majority PACs — which support Democratic candidates, as well as $474,600 — the maximum allowable — to both the DCCC and the DSCC. Eychaner gave the DNC $32,400 in 2014 and $45,600 in the 2010 cycle.

For some donors, the DNC simply isn’t a priority in a midterm year, especially one where a Republican occupies the White House. Without a sitting president or vice president to headline, these donors aren’t as enthusiastic about attending a fundraiser.

After contributing nearly $225,000 to the DNC the last five cycles, Wade Randlett, a San Francisco energy executive, said he doesn’t plan to chip in again until someone like former Vice President Joe Biden is running for president.

“The truth is, the minute Joe Biden says, come to ‘x’ house for the DNC, I’m there and I write the check. In the meantime, there are a record number of great midterm candidates filling up your voicemail,” said Randlett, who’s given roughly $60,000 to Democratic candidates and groups this cycle. “But when Joe says ‘it’s time,’ I don’t care if he tells me to go to Scranton or DC or Cleveland. I write the check for the guy I want to beat Trump.”

Meanwhile, the DNC hasn’t even solicited a donation from New York real estate developer Jeffrey Gural, even though he had given a total of $94,000 to the committee since 2008.

“You tend to focus on the fact that you’re trying to win the House, win the Senate, or at least hold on to as many seats as possible,” said Gural, who’s doled out nearly $600,000 to other Democratic candidates and groups this cycle. “You kind of don’t even think about the DNC, especially if no one asks you.”

Other donors think they’ll get more bang for the buck at the local level. David Roberts, of St. Louis, Mo., has given more than $80,000 to the DNC over the past five cycles, but is now more engaged with the Committee on States, a liberal group focused on state-level politics, which has introduced him to like-minded progressives in the region. He faults the DNC for not creating the same sense of community.

“I think they’re failing to engage grassroots folks who have the capacity to fund them,” Roberts said.

Despite that, some donors haven’t ruled out supporting the DNC again down the road.

Barbara Schmidt, of Boca Raton, Fla., has given more than $300,000 combined to the DNC over the past five election cycles. This cycle she said she’s been more focused on non-political efforts, particularly a social activism fellowship for high school students she endowed at Florida Atlantic University after the shooting at nearby Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School

But she plans to increase her political giving as the election nears, with a particular focus on Florida races, and hasn’t ruled out giving to the DNC.

“I’m as enthusiastic as ever about Democratic candidates and supporting them,” Schmidt said.

Ben Wieder, 202-383-6125, @benbwieder

Adam Wollner: 202-383-6020, @AdamWollner