BERNIE SANDERS would have raised almost twice as much money by the end of 2015 as Hillary Clinton for his presidential campaign if the U.S. had a system of public matching funds for small donors, according to a report by U.S. PIRG, a federation of the state-level activist groups founded by Ralph Nader in the 1970s.
In addition, Sanders also would have far outraised any of the remaining Republican candidates.
The U.S. PIRG report examines how 2016 presidential candidates would fare under a campaign financing system similar to that of New York City, which matches small donations to local candidates with additional public money at a 6-to-1 ratio. For example, if someone gives $10 to a candidate for the New York City Council, the city provides an additional $60, so the candidate receives $70 total.
The report assumes that to participate in the matching funds program, candidates must voluntarily agree to take no donations over $200. Therefore, to determine the amount candidates would receive in matching funds, the report caps donations by individuals at $200 in its accounting, even if they gave more than that amount, adds up all the candidates’ donations using those new numbers, and then multiplies the result by by six.
The Sanders campaign raised $72.8 million through the end of the fourth quarter of 2015, compared to $110.4 million raised by the Clinton campaign. However, with a 6-to-1 match of public funds for Sanders’s small-dollar donations, Sanders would have received an additional $340.3 million in matching funds, for a total of $413.1 million. Because Clinton has concentrated on raising money from contributors able to afford large donations, she would have received only $129.0 million in matching funds, bringing her campaign’s total haul to $239.4 million. (For an explanation of why a candidate like Sanders, who depends on small donors, would benefit so much more from matching funds than one depending on large donors, see here.)
The Ted Cruz campaign would also benefit significantly from a system of small donor matching funds. Cruz raised $43.7 million through the end of 2015, and because he has concentrated on building a base of small donors, he would receive an additional $131.3 million for a total of $175 million.
The U.S. PIRG report also demonstrates that a small-donor matching funds system would overwhelm the financial impact of Super PACs. While Super PACs affiliated with Clinton’s campaign have raised a total of about $45 million, according to the most recent filings, and Cruz’s Super PACs have raised $39 million, these amounts would be small compared to the matching funds that Sanders would receive.
The U.S. PIRG report acknowledges that it does not take into account how both candidates and potential small contributors would change their behavior under a small-donor matching system. The report notes that New York City has seen both an increased number of small donors and increased diversity in where donors live.