It’s an unfortunate reality that it requires money—and lots of it—to be a power player in mainstream American politics, and Democrats are becoming intimately acquainted with that reality as they trail GOP counterparts in fundraising despite racking up a string of recent electoral victories.
Federal Election Commission filings reviewed by the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday found the Democratic National Committee had just $6.3 million in the bank on December 1—a number dwarfed by the Republican National Committee’s $40 million. The DNC also reported fewer than one-third the volume of donations over $33,000 by October than the RNC reported in September.
Although November was marked by Democrat Ralph Northam winning the hotly contested Virginia gubernatorial race over former RNC Chair Ed Gillespie, Democrat Phil Murphy taking the governor’s mansion in New Jersey, and the elections of the first out transgender woman of color and Virginia’s first out transgender state lawmaker, the month was also the DNC’s worst fundraising month in a decade.
That’s stunning, but the trend doesn’t hold everywhere. The newspaper notes that donations pouring in from around the country were a factor in Democrat Doug Jones’s win over Roy Moore in the special Senate race in Alabama earlier this month, as Moore lagged behind in the money race (while leading the polls by double digits) even before the allegations that he preyed on young girls were reported.
DNC insiders anonymously told the Journal that big ticket donors are holding their pursestrings more tightly in the wake of former acting DNC chair Donna Brazile revealing the organization rigged the primary process in Hillary Clinton’s favor, with Clinton contending that the DNC’s war chest was so diminished by Obama’s campaigns that she was forced to bankroll the DNC just to keep the lights on.
DNC Chair Tom Perez has credited the party’s recent wins to strong grassroots organizing far down the ballot, and the Democrats are mounting an effort to target small donors in attempt to recreate the Bernie Sanders’s fundraising model. Those are positive steps forward. But after kneecapping Sanders’ insurgent presidential campaign—and logging local electoral victories without any help from the party at all—it’s little wonder why people aren’t putting much stock in the national party, even if they’re energized about fighting the Trump agenda. The party is also likely suffering an excitement deficit among the brand of Big Liberal Donor most interested in throwing money at the shiny new thing—see: any Clinton campaign, Jon Ossoff—but bored by funding organizations with proven track records working on unsexy issues or state parties.
The DNC has been bleeding money and power for years, even as local organizers have fought and won their own battles. For the national party to matter again, they need to recognize where the real power now resides—and avail its substantial infrastructure to supporting and expanding grassroots organizing efforts that already work, rather than operating as a dying corporation built to shelter as many consultants as it can every four years.