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By Sophie Kaplan November 13, 2017

Trump raised more dollars from small donations

Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany wanted to highlight some good news: Trump’s "underreported" success with small dollar donations in the 2016 presidential election.

She tweeted on Oct. 11, "Underreported fact: President @realDonaldTrump raised more in small dollar donations than Obama in 2012 and than Clinton and Bernie combined!"

We hadn’t heard that, so we decided to look into it.

Cassie Smedile, Republican National Committee national press secretary, said that McEnany got her information from a Washington Post article that cited a Campaign Finance Institute report.

The institute used data from the Federal Elections Commission disclosure reports to analyze campaign contributions. It focused on donations from people who gave less than $200 over the course of the entire campaign to both the campaigns and the joint fundraising committees.

The $200 limit comes from the FEC. A quirk in the campaign reporting process means the FEC only records each individual donor who donates more than $200, while tracking the sum of contributions of $200 or less to the campaigns.  

This is important to remember, because over the course of the campaign, donors could have given smaller amounts repeatedly that added up to more than $200. These donors technically gave small amounts, but they would not be captured in the institute’s report because the report focused on donors who gave less than $200 total.

"I've reviewed the CFI report but I can't replicate their methodology, so I can't speak to the accuracy of the report," said Doug Weber, senior researcher at the Center for Responsive Politics.

"I can’t match up the numbers for you, but the Campaign Finance Institute does good work," said Judith Ingram, press officer at the Federal Elections Commission.

Here is the breakdown of how much each candidate received from small donors, according to the institute's report:

  • Trump received about $239 million from donors who gave less than $200 in total. That amounts to  69 percent of the Trump campaign’s individual contributions;

  • Hillary Clinton received about $137 million from $200-or-under donors. That made up 22 percent of the campaign’s individual contributions;

  • Bernie Sanders received about $100 million, or 44 percent of his campaign’s individual contributions.

Going back further, President Barack Obama received about $219 million from small-dollar donors in 2012, or 28 percent of his campaign’s individual contributions. In 2008, Obama received about $181 million, or 24 percent of his total individual contributions.

So, according to the Campaign Finance Institute, Trump raised $20 million more from small-dollar donors than Obama in 2012 and $2 million more than Clinton and Sanders combined in 2016.

A few more details: Obama ran unopposed in the 2012 Democratic primary election. Sanders was not the Democratic party nominee in 2016 and did not run in the general election. The report only looked at Sanders’ fundraising through June 30, 2016.  

Aspects of the campaign calendar contributed to Trump’s success with under-$200 donors. Sanders, Obama and Clinton raised money over a longer period of time so that some of the small donors may have donated more than once and exceeded the $200 threshold.

Trump, by contrast, raised more money in a shorter time frame. "Because Trump raised most of his money over four months, fewer of his donors had this experience (of donating more than once). Even this caveat, however, does not negate the fact that his small donor numbers were record shattering," said Brendan Glavin, data and systems manager at the Campaign Finance Institute.

The institute looked at not only how much each candidate received, but also how much the candidates’ joint fundraising committees helped raise as well. Glavin said that the RNC and the Trump campaign made a deal and split the fundraising from committees. "The main joint fundraising committee was the Trump Make America Great Again Committee, which raised in 2016 $263 million," said Glavin.

Here’s a breakdown of how much each campaign raised from donors who gave $200 or less, without the help of the joint fundraising committees, according to FEC reports:

  • Trump raised $86.6 million, or 64 percent of the campaign’s total individual contributions.

  • Obama in 2012 raised $234.4 million, or 42 percent of the campaign’s total individual contributions.

  • Sanders raised $134.6 million, or 58 percent of the campaign’s total individual contributions.

  • Clinton raised $105.5 million, or 26 percent of the campaign’s total individual contributions.

Rick Hasen, campaign finance legal scholar at University of California Irvine School of Law said, "This seems like a correct tweet. The only caveat is the point at the end of the report about some donors being so enthused they went over the $200 threshold."

The Clinton campaign encouraged this enthusiasm in the fundraising emails they sent out to their supporters. This is an example of the language used in the emails: "FEC policy is that only supporters who have contributed more than $200 are included on the record. Your support has been above average, but you're a few donations away from that threshold. Donate before Wednesday's deadline to get your support on the official record."

Our ruling

McEnany said Trump "raised more in small dollar donations" than his Democratic competitors. Trump, in conjunction with his joint fundraising committees, did raise more money from people who donated less than $200. Because McEnany did not mention what constitutes a small donation and that the institute also was looking at contributions to joint fundraising committees, we rate this statement Mostly True.


Our Sources

Kayleigh McEnany, Tweet, Oct. 11, 2017

Email Correspondence with RNC Press Secretary Cassie Smedile, Oct. 11, 2017

Email and Phone Correspondence with Brendan Glavin, Data and Systems Manager at CFI, Oct. 18, 2017

Email Correspondence with FEC PRess Officer Judith Ingram, Oct. 15, 2017

Campaign Finance Institute, President Trump, with RNC Help, Raised More Small Donor Money than President Obama; As Much As Clinton and Sanders Combined, Feb. 21, 2017

Washington Post, Trump supporters eager to ‘drain the swamp’ help fill Republican Party coffers, Oct. 6, 2017

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