In touting the $2 million Democrat Patrick Murphy raised during the first three months of 2016, his U.S. Senate campaign made a point to note that “over 85 percent of contributions in the first quarter were under $200.”
Such a claim is a way for campaigns to boast of their grassroots appeal among average voters. But while small-dollar donors might have donated thousands of times to the Jupiter congressman, they are far from being the predominant source of his Senate campaign’s income, either last quarter or in general so far.
His primary opponent, fellow U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando, is actually the one getting the most traction among small-dollar Democratic supporters — although it means Grayson’s overall fundraising continues to lag.
A Herald/Times analysis of Murphy’s and Grayson’s first-quarter campaign finance reports revealed that only about 10 percent of the $2 million Murphy raised came from donations of $200 or less.
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‘Small-dollar donors’ are considered those who give in increments of $200 or less
The campaign reported $160,000 of “unitemized” donations, and the Herald/Times identified at least another $44,000 in small-dollar contributions among the “itemized” ones listed in the 1,300-page disclosure.
But about 80 percent of Murphy’s quarterly contributions — $1.6 million — came from individual donors who gave more than $200, many of whom gave the maximum-allowed $2,700 for either the primary or general elections.
“Patrick is proud of the support he’s received from Floridians across the state and will continue to fight for progressive values to help all of Florida’s families,” spokeswoman Galia Slayen said in a campaign statement in response to questions from the Herald/Times.
As the Democratic primary race for Florida’s U.S. Senate seat ramps up this spring, support from grassroots donors has become a talking point for the Murphy and Grayson campaigns. The primary election is Aug. 30.
Grayson, a staunch progressive, has emphasized his draw among small-dollar donors for months, as he taps into a nationwide network of loyal fans who give in small increments. One of his common soundbites is that he’s “unbought and unbossed.”
In contrast to Murphy, Grayson actually does get most of his fundraising support from contributions of $200 or less, which are most commonly reported en masse as “unitemized” donations.
It’s fundamentally important where your money comes from because in the world we live in, money buys influence.
U.S. Senate candidate and U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson
If an individual donor’s contributions exceed $200, their donations have to be reported on separate line-items in reports to the Federal Election Commission.
Grayson’s first-quarter report shows he got almost 70 percent of his support — or $569,000 — from “unitemized” contributions. Of the remaining $240,000 from individual contributions, 57 percent came from donations of $200 or less.
The Herald/Times identified $103,100 that came from donations larger than $200 — or less than 13 percent of the $819,400 Grayson raised during the first three months of 2016. Most of those contributions were in increments of $250.
Grayson said the fundraising trend builds on his 2012 and 2014 U.S. House races when, he said, most of what he raised also came from small-dollar donors.
“It’s fundamentally important where your money comes from because in the world we live in, money buys influence,” Grayson said.
He said drawing from a base of individual donors who don’t give much means he’s “liberated” from becoming beholden to special interests and wealthy insiders.
Murphy, who is more moderate in his views and backed by establishment Democrats, has only recently begun to emphasize small-dollar contributions in his fundraising. He continues to lead all Senate candidates in fundraising, including the five Republicans running in the GOP primary.
In the first quarter of this year, Murphy also reported $180,500 in contributions from political action committees (PACs), or about 9 percent of his quarterly haul. He took in another $31,000 through “Florida Senate 2016” — one of seven Washington, D.C.-based fundraising committees that have agreements with Murphy to raise money on his behalf.
Patrick is proud of the support he’s received from Floridians across the state.
Galia Slayen, campaign spokeswoman for U.S Senate candidate and U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy
Grayson took in just $11,000 from PACs during the first quarter. He has no joint fundraising representatives registered with the Federal Election Commission.
When considering the election cycle to date, “unitemized” contributions have accounted for just 8 percent, or $522,000, of the $6.3 million Murphy has taken in from individual donors.
By comparison, “unitemized” contributions make up 62 percent, or $1.45 million, of the $2.3 million Grayson raised from individuals.
Those figures don’t count donations of $200 or less that might have been detailed separately as “itemized” contributions.
To date, Murphy also has received $1.3 million from PACs and another $89,200 from other authorized fundraising committees. Meanwhile, Grayson has gotten $96,200 from special-interest groups.
Heading into April, Murphy had $5.6 million in the bank, and Grayson had $430,000.
North Palm Beach attorney Pam Keith is also running in the Democratic primary. Her fundraising has been nominal; she’s raised $89,000 to date, including $18,500 in the first quarter. She reported having $8,400 in the bank, as of March 31.
Separately from Murphy’s campaign account, a super PAC called “Floridians for a Strong Middle Class” is also raising money in support of Murphy. Murphy’s father, Thomas Murphy Jr., is its largest donor.
Like Murphy, Grayson also makes claims of his support from small-dollar donors. For instance, in announcing his first-quarter fundraising, Grayson’s campaign noted that he’d “received more than 81,000 individual contributions” since he launched his campaign last summer.
While that’s sizable in the number of contributions, Grayson still drastically lags behind Murphy in total fundraising. Grayson reported $800,000 in donations in the first quarter, on top of another $200,000 loan he gave his campaign. To date, he’s loaned at least $400,000 since launching his Senate run in July.
It’s not possible to independently verify Grayson’s and Murphy’s claims about the number of their individual contributions, because so many of those are declared as “unitemized.” But when using individual transactions as a barometer, it’s easy for that figure to be inflated.
It’s not uncommon for online donors to sign up for recurring donations on a regular basis. In Murphy’s report, for example, the Herald/Times found one individual who gave almost 50 times during the first quarter, in increments of $3 to $30. Similar patterns emerge among itemized donors in Grayson’s reports, too.