Bernie Sanders closing in on Hillary Clinton in fundraising, attracting student donors

by PABLO ROA

Much of the news regarding the 2016 presidential campaign has, to this point, focused mostly on the Republican presidential primary. After all, the Republican field consists of over a dozen candidates and is likely to be competitive until a nominee is chosen next year.

Recently, however, the Democratic presidential primary has also picked up steam. If last quarter’s fundraising totals for Senator Bernie Sanders are any indication, the race for the Democratic nomination could be just as interesting and competitive as that of the GOP.

Once considered a fringe candidate with little chance of competing with Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton, Sanders has now gained ground or passed Clinton in several polls. Perhaps even more surprisingly, he is beginning to compete with the former Secretary of State in fundraising as well. The Sanders campaign raised $26 million in the fourth fiscal quarter, which falls just $2 million shy of Clinton’s $28 million.

“Bernie’s fundraising success shows that many Americans are fed up with the current patronage-based political system,” said junior government and politics and theater major Christopher Walkup, who is also the co-founder of the UMD grassroots organization, Terps for Bernie.

“His numbers are staggering and historically unprecedented. Bernie is riling the disenfranchised masses of this country, and as more people hear his message of economic justice I expect his fundraising numbers to climb with each consecutive quarter up until November 2016.”

The fact that he did so well last quarter is surprising. According to ABC News, Clinton outspent Sanders by a 2-1 margin last quarter and held many more fundraising events than Sanders. Clinton also spent millions of dollars on television ads, while Sanders spent none. And yet, Sanders came shockingly close to matching Clinton.

Unlike most of the 2016 presidential candidates, Sanders does not have a Super PACs and relies mostly on small donations from many different donors.

“What we have shown is that we can run a successful campaign without having to depend upon donations from the wealthy and the powerful and that we can do it with an average campaign contribution of only $30,” Sanders wrote in an email from his campaign.

Senior government and politics major Justin Lee says that he donated to the Sanders campaign because the Senator’s views are in line with his own and appeal to the ideals of young progressives.

“While being 21 years young, Senator Sanders has truly sought a message that appeals to me as a student and struck a cord within me where no politician has come close,” Lee said. “His messages are inspiring and his policy initiatives are in sync with my progressive political stances. ”

Regardless of why people are donating to his campaign, Sanders’ fundraising strategy is unprecedented in an era where most presidential campaigns rely on big-money donors and Super PACs. Walkup is not optimistic that Sanders’ successful fundraising will immediately change the way political campaigns are run, but he believes a Sanders presidency would do just that.

“It is so easy to sell out and get a wealthy sponsor nowadays, so I do not believe Bernie will change the system with his campaign strategy,” Walkup said. “However, Bernie will be able to institute campaign finance reform when he gets into office, because he is not beholden to oligarchical interests. As President, Bernie will work towards legislative and judicial reform and this will be Bernie’s way of changing the presidential election process.”

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