Why money is so important in US elections

Why money is so important in US elections

Money Makes the World Go ‘Round

Money has become the lifeblood of American political campaigns. It buys TV ads, hires staff in key states, facilitates travel and secures crucial data to reach targeted voting blocs. How much money a candidate has can determine the longevity of his or her campaign and, while there are limits on how much individuals can donate to a campaign; candidates can spend as much as they raise.

Most 2020 candidates rely on one of two ways to raise funds: grassroots fundraising, which requires amassing and maintaining a large number of small-dollar donors; and/or large donations from either corporations or wealthy individuals. Both require a candidate’s ability to attract donors and raise the large amounts of funds necessary to stay in the race. 2020 has seen two billionaires bring different approaches to self-financing. Their competition in the Democratic Primary has raised questions of whether money can determine the outcomes of an election. What’s clear is that money is necessary, and candidates are adopting different strategies to secure the funds they need.

Grassroots Fundraising

No candidate exemplifies grassroots funding better than Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Sanders built on the momentum from his 2016 presidential bid to catapult his 2020 campaign to top-tier status. This is in large part due to him raising $60 million of his $107 million total from donations of less than $200.

Though he has received extensive scrutiny from his moderate rivals, Sanders will have the funds to be in the race until its end due to his high profile brand and the simplicity of his positions on almost every campaign issue which allows his supporters to become surrogates and to drive donations to his campaign.

Large Donors

Despite being relatively unknown when he announced his candidacy, former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg has become a top-tier candidate largely in part due to his ability to raise funds from large donors. Of his impressive $76 million in donations, 55 per cent has come from large donations by corporations and wealthy individuals. In an age of populism this might be a weakness, but the vast donation sums have earned him media coverage.

Buttigieg turned his impressive initial fundraising total into a general argument to support his candidacy and as more money comes in, his argument grows more poignant. The support of large donors, along with his moderate values has enabled him to establish himself and succeed where others have faltered in the moderate lane of the Democratic party.


The entry of wealthy candidates into the race has upended the traditional models of campaign finance. Bloomberg launched his campaign late but didn’t have to worry about donor support or raising money; he simply put $200 million of his fortune into his campaign from day one.

While other candidates were on the trail attempting to win over financial and electoral support, he spent $400 million on TV and social media ads and beefed up his campaign teams in Super Tuesday states. The ads have given him traction and he has risen in the polls. As long as that is the case, Bloomberg will continue to spend money.

Money, It’s A Gas

This election race has been unlike any other and will continue to have twists and turns all the way to the Democratic convention. The field that started in 2020 was larger than any to have come before it but Democratic stars like Senators Cory Booker and Kamala Harris faded and ultimately dropped out because they ran out of financial firepower.

The lesson of this cycle is that the candidates with money will be the ones with the greatest staying power. That points to a three-horse race: Sanders, Bloomberg and Buttigieg. Money doesn’t win elections; votes do. But if you don’t have the former you will struggle to win the latter.

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