They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and we are seeing that truism play out in real time with what C-list Republican presidential candidates are doing to qualify for the presidential primary debates.
While it’s increasingly unclear if former president Donald Trump will even appear on the debate stage himself, candidates such as North Dakota governor Doug Burgum are trying something new out: paying people to recruit more donors.
The routes being taken by these also-ran candidates are slightly different. America Strong & Free PAC, which is backing former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson, is offering to make some small-dollar bundlers contractors by paying them for every new donor they recruit, Cockburn can first report. This is an increasingly urgent necessity because the Republican National Committee set a threshold of at least 40,000 unique donors for each candidate to have in order to qualify for the first debate next month. Hutchinson said last week that he is barely 10 percent of the way there.
The former Arkansas governor is not alone in rolling out debate gimmicks. He’s joined by Burgum, whose plans are far more public. The billionaire tech mogul has money to burn, which is a good thing, because he is running Facebook ads touting his plans to give out “Biden Economic Relief cards” worth $20 to up to 50,000 people. His campaign is also advertising on Instagram, offering to ship anyone an American flag as long as they send him a single dollar.
One candidate already well clear of the 40k threshold is entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, who Cockburn understands has over 65,000 donors. Nonetheless, his campaign are getting creative on fundraising: this week, they rolled out Vivek’s Kitchen Cabinet, where members can potentially earn way more than either Hutchinson or Burgum’s teams can offer. Every participant gets a 10 percent cut of whatever they raise for Ramaswamy’s presidential campaign, using a dedicated fundraising link to track their progress. “A small oligopoly of political fundraisers is already making an ungodly amount of $$ on this election. It’s disgusting. I’m breaking up that cartel,” Ramaswamy tweeted. “If someone else is getting rich on this, it might as well be you.”
The squabble over small-dollar donors isn’t limited to candidates who may never be on a debate stage, however. The race’s two front-runners, Trump and Florida governor Ron DeSantis, are taking opposite approaches. Trump is doubling down on his 2022 strategy, in which he infamously took 99 percent of what he raised for some Republicans, sending messages that donations will be matched up to “1,500 percent,” which could potentially run afoul of campaign finance laws. DeSantis, on the other hand, is refusing to give faulty deadlines with his fundraising. The New York Times reports that his campaign will have “no wildly implausible pledges that sizable contributions will be matched by committees affiliated with the campaign. And no tricking donors into recurring donations,” in a marked contrast with the former president’s strategy.
Offline, candidates like Chris Christie are making their pitch for small dollars to get them on the debate stage even clearer: donate to my campaign so I can destroy Donald Trump. Christie, a former Trump ally, recently told the Ruthless podcast that even if Trump doesn’t show up at the debate, he’ll take it to him anyway.
“Can you imagine him sitting in Mar-a-Lago in front of the TV set, out on bail?” Christie asked. “Can you imagine him having to listen to me for ninety minutes, where every time they come to me, they ask me a question about foreign policy and I give fifteen seconds on foreign policy and then I go ‘and let me tell you something else about Donald Trump,’ and you just beat him senseless. And all he’s doing is pounding on that loser social media app he has, Truth Social, which he’s required to because he’s on the grift on that too.”
Cockburn is patiently awaiting further offers from presidential candidates to buy him off, but cautions Governor Burgum that his asking price is more than just a $20 Biden Economic Relief card…