Sanders Within Striking Distance of Record with 1 Million Grassroots Campaign Contributions

In coming days, Bernie Sanders is hoping to achieve a milestone by showing the political world, from America’s grassroots to party bosses and pundits in Washington, that he has more than 1 million donations to his 2016 presidential campaign.

Sanders sent out the word Wednesday morning in an e-mail blast saying he was within striking distance of the symbolic threshold of 1 million campaign contributions—people who typically give well under $100—and urging supporters to lift him across that line.

“We have a chance to make history,” his e-mail blast began, saying his insurgent campaign would be reporting its fundraising progress next week to the Federal Election Commission. “We will have to publicly report not just how much money our campaign has raised, but how many people have made a contribution to own a part of it.”

Without getting too far ahead of the news, there is a strong likelihood Sanders will reach that threshold, because his supporters have become the wild card in the Democratic Party’s nominating contest. Last week, he raised more than $1 million after a super PAC supporting Hillary Clinton launched an attack ad smearing his socialist philosophy.

“Having more than 1 million contributions would be absolutely, totally historic this early in an election,” Sanders said. “In the 2008 race, with all of his grassroots momentum and enthusiasm in his incredible campaign, President Obama did not reach more than 1 million contributions until after he won the Iowa caucuses.”

The political media, Sanders said, takes fundraising deadlines seriously—but not always for the right reasons. They typically equate having the biggest war chest with being the most popular or viable candidate—and the reverse. But they generally do not focus on the characteristics of the nation’s elite political donor class, which for the most part share a pro-corporate economic agenda but differ on social issues.

Sanders wants to underscore that his campaign is the grassroots revolution America has been waiting for—a people-funded movement championing greater dignity and fairness for the middle- and working-classes, and for America’s poor.

“We’ll see just how many Wall Street execs contributed how many millions of dollars to prop up the corrupt system that helps them get rich,” he said. “What they’re not counting on is our political revolution. Let’s show that the number of people and the number of contributions people make is just as important as the money raised from the billionaire class.”   

Sanders knows he is swimming against a tide of conventional punditry that did not expect his popular and growing campaign. But he’s shrewdly setting up a stark contrast that will be hard to ignore, especially after Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker dropped out of the GOP race a day after learning his presidential campaign was $700,000 in debt and not going anywhere in the polls.

It’s telling that even though Walker was the favorite of the Kansas energy billionaire Koch brothers, whose libertarian network has set a goal of raising and spending nearly $900 million in 2016, the fine print of super PAC rules wouldn’t let the Kochs’ shadowy organizations pick up the tab for Walker's mounting campaign expenses. They could spend a fortune on media promoting his or others’ candidacy—but not campaign operating expenses, suggesting that Walker badly mismanaged his campaign.

Sanders, in the meantime, keeps raising the issue of reforming the campaign finance system—as does Clinton—by promoting new laws that would reverse decades of Supreme Court decisions that have enabled wealthy individuals and institutions to create and exploit loopholes to bankroll their favored candidates.

Sanders attacked the Koch brothers Tuesday from the Senate floor.

“When you have one family spending more money than either the two major political parties, I think it is an example of what the Pope is talking about when he says money rules,” he said. “Money does rule, and that is why, in my view, we have got to overturn [the 2010 Supreme Court ruling] Citizens United and in fact move to public funding of elections so the wealthy and the powerful will not be able to buy elections.”

Right wingers on campaign finance reform—which includes the current GOP leadership in Congress, especially Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — will likely say Sanders’ embrace of public financing, in which the federal government matches the small donations given at the grassroots, is self-serving and benefits him the most. They will also likely say the current system is working if a candidate like Sanders can raise more than a million donations from the grassroots.

As Sanders’ supporters respond to his appeal to cross the million-mark threshold, just sit back and watch how nation’s political class responds—or more likely doesn’t—to what is likely to be a stunning achievement. By next week when the FEC numbers are all tallied, do not be surprised if the total number of Sanders’ donations rival or surpass all of the contributions to the entire Republican presidential field.


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