OHIO — This year is a first many things, like the pandemic. But 2020 is also on track to break records for political donations with about $3 billion raised for congressional candidates of both parties, according to the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, D.C. This compares to around $500 million raised by President Donald Trump and about $800 million for former Vice President Joe Biden. And these figures don’t include money to PACs and other interest groups.
Whether it’s rural or urban Ohio, many areas have faced extreme changes because of COVID-19, from mandatory mask-wearing to temperature checks. But there’s also been a skyrocket in unemployment, and despite that, millions are taking our their pocketbooks.
The reason why may lie within technology and voter motivation.
“It’s the ability to raise money online—something that would have been unthinkable 10 or 20 years ago is now at everyone’s finger tips,” says Brendan Quinn at the Center for Responsive Politics.
Indeed, if COVID hit in 2000, it’s likely the parties would have face substantial fundraising hurdles, but today, Quinn says giving is just about pandemic proof.
“They have these online fundraising conduits. Democrats have ActBlue, which has been around for a number of cycles now. For the first time this cycle the Republicans have their own. It’s called WinRed. And most people who give online are giving through these conduits that allow candidates to raise money not just from their own constituents, so from people across the country.”
But not everyone is a savvy online giver. Slick tech at the national party level and with the presidential campaigns is one thing, but how about local parties?
Matt Pairise heads the Jefferson County Republican Party in far eastern Ohio, and he says the internet money train hasn’t made as many stops this cycle.
“You know, fundraising this year has been a challenge. The normal dinners that we had, the picnics that we had, all of that my executive committee and I decided to cancel for the year.”
And Pairise says it’s not really online donations that saved his operation this year, but voter motivation and response through some old school tech: The postal service.
“So, fortunately, we did some mailers. Some direct mail pieces to our donors. They have been very generous with us. But we have found the enthusiasm and the level of enthusiasm for coming in and stopping in our headquarters to be overwhelming.”
It’s a similar story in the state’s second largest city in terms of a lack of online fundraising, says Cuyahoga County Democratic Party chair Shontel Brown:
“That’s an area that we haven’t aggressively pursued at the local level, so, when I talk about that last ditch effort that is the avenue that I’m going to test the waters out, actually, as soon as we get off this call, so I’ll be recording a video making that final plea to our supporters to ask if they will pitch in whatever they can, anything as small as a dollar up to whatever their pockets can afford.”
Like Pairise, Brown says her county organization was boosted by old-fashioned means of donor support.
It’s something Quinn chalks up to voter excitement. “There is more enthusiasm from grassroots donors this cycle and last cycle than we’ve ever seen before.”
So, it seems that while future election cycles might see a stronger local party push in online donations, the 2020 campaign shows that where there’s a will there’s a way to give to your party.