Over the course of his lifetime, Bernie Sanders has had approximately $400 million dollars donated to his political campaigns. 55%, or about $220 million, of his contributions are $200 or less, another 35% are from large individual contributions. This makes him truly a special case in politics. These numbers are according to opensecrets.org.
For comparison, Clinton in 2016 had less than 20% from small individual contributions. If anyone doesn’t know me I’m about as antipathetic as one can be on all politics, and so the nature of his financing is the only reason I’m using Sanders as an example.
Unlike other candidates, it’s normal people like the general reader of this paper who fuels his campaign. I can write to you all as individuals, and not have to negotiate with the huge players donating to someone like the Clinton’s or Joe Biden or whoever else. So I can plead to you as individuals to use your money on something else.
Sanders, as well intentioned as he is, has spent the $220 million that small donors send him for what? He’s basically just used it to print and distribute pamphlets with his name and mugshot on them.
It deserves repeating that I’m not singling out Sanders because I don’t like his name and mugshot specifically, or his proposals, etc. I’m singling him out because it’s primarily our money that he’s wasted—the little guys. We have immediate power to stop the flow of money into politics.
Now that Sanders—the 2020 candidate funded to the tune of $74 million by small donors—has almost certainly lost the candidacy, let’s look at how we can come together to better spend that money. Let’s aim it at a cause that works.
Just because he’s my case study, let’s assume we donated to Sanders for the reason that we actually care about the things he cares about.
With that assumption, if we’re interested in helping with our healthcare problems let’s donate to something like Americare or Direct Relief. Americare brings much needed medicine, medical supplies and healthcare to those in need, in the United States and around the world. They also spend nearly 99% of their contributions on actual program expenses. If we’re concerned about environmental impact, I’d make the case that the Nature Conservancy has done as much as any organization, or perhaps the Rainforest Trust or I’ll even make the case for investing in a green energy provider on the Stock Market to get innovation going.
There are dozens of reputable and effective charities allied with Sanders’ concerns, and who would have loved to see our charitable donations.
Let’s look beyond Sanders now, $3-7 billion gets burned every year funding federal political campaigns. That’s several times larger than even a charity the size of the Nature Conservancy. Half of that yearly spending, is in a sense, a completely wasted bet on a loser, as only one candidate wins each election.
Campaigns for Federal Elected offices in 2016 amounted to nearly $7 billion, from all types of funding. To put that in perspective, United Way Worldwide, takes in around $3.3 billion in donations. The losing campaigns of 2016 took in more money than the largest charity. The Hillary Clinton campaign alone spent $770 million, which would make her failing election effort something like the 16th largest charity in 2016, larger than the American Cancer Society. That amount of wasted capital, to print out names and mugshots of know-it-alls is utterly appalling to me.
Unfortunately, us small donors probably can’t control much more than a fifth of total campaign contributions. Even still, that is probably a billion dollars of power we collectively hold.
Maybe they don’t really need our money anyway. Clinton far outspending Trump or Bloomberg’s wealth-burning ritual of a campaign, proves that buying elections isn’t at a 1 to 1 exchange rate.
When you feel that urge to fuel your preferred politician’s campaign addiction, look up some high-impact charities instead. Donate to a group that makes a change, and stop donating so that the other guy might not win.
DeForest Dalbec is a senior, economics major.