“Big problems with small money? Republicans catch up to Democrats in online giving”

From Alex Seitz-Wald and Ben Kamisar at NBC News:

Republicans are beginning to catch up with Democrats in online fundraising, creating for the first time in modern history a political landscape where both parties are largely funded by small donations — for better or, some say, for worse.

Democrats, who have dominated online fundraising since the early days of the internet, have claimed that the billions they raise in small donations are evidence that they are the party of the people, less reliant on wealthy donors and business interests than the GOP.

Republicans have spent years playing catch-up, mostly unsuccessfully. But now, just in time for the 2022 midterm elections, they are starting to pull even, thanks in large part to former President Donald Trump and his army of online devotees.

“This is the harvest of the seeds of digital infrastructure Republicans have been planting for years,” said Matt Gorman, a GOP strategist who worked for the party’s congressional campaign arm during the last midterm election. “That’s why you’re seeing things like freshman members of the House raising over $1 million (in a single quarter). In 2018, we were begging folks to raise a fifth of that.”…

Small donors are especially valuable to the GOP as they try to fill the void left by the Republicans’ traditional allies in corporate America after many businesses announced that they would withhold contributions to Republicans who voted against certifying President Joe Biden’s election on Jan. 6….

While small dollars tend to be romanticized — Democrats’ voting rights bill includes provision to encourage such giving by matching $6 in public funds for every $1 in small donations — some see a big downside to empowering small donors, who tend to be the most ideological and online.

“The same dynamics that fuel virality on social media in general also apply to small-donor fundraising,” said a leading scholar of democracy. Rick Pildes, a constitutional law professor at New York University.

“The more extreme appeals, the more extreme candidates, the candidates who have the highest profiles because they’re dominant presences on social media or on cable news tend to attract and rely most heavily on small donors,” he said. “There’s a real risk that the rise in small-donor fundraising will throw further fuel on the fires of polarization that are burning so strongly.”

Research has shown that people who give online are more ideological than the general public and that more ideologically extreme lawmakers raise larger proportions of their campaign coffers from individual donors.

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