Campaign spending: How Biden beat Trump's 'death star'

The Democrat has racked up hundreds of millions of dollars more than the incumbent president. However, he left with a certain delay in this area.

It was Brad Parscale, the ousted campaign manager last summer, who came up with the nickname: the Trump campaign, according to him, was "the death star", the famous space station of "Star Wars", capable of destroying planets. A wink supposed to illustrate the firepower of the organization set up to guarantee the re-election of the billionaire. Of course, in the George Lucas film, the evil weapon is defeated by two torpedoes fired by a young pilot named Luke Skywalker, and Internet users had not failed to point out to Parscale the incongruity of his choice of metaphor. . The 2020 presidential campaign is not, however, a repeat of the clash between David and Goliath: if the Trumpist "death star" has been defeated, it is because she found himself bigger than him. she on her way. According to data from the Federal Election Commission (FEC), Democrat Joe Biden received more than $ 952 million in contributions as of October 14, compared with just $ 601 million for Donald Trump since 2017. Worse, the coffers of the Trump camp are, in comparison, dry: as of October 14, he had only $ 43.6 million, compared to $ 162 million for Biden.

Money, central to political life in the United States, is not enough to make an election. In 2016, Hillary Clinton had atomized her opponent Donald Trump financially and the presidency had still escaped her. Trump himself likes to recall this. “We don't need money, we have plenty of money. Moreover, we beat Hillary Clinton with a tiny fraction of the money she had collected, ”he said, bravado, during the last presidential debate last week. However, the lack of funds is painful for the candidate Trump: the current campaign manager, Bill Stepien, imposed a drastic reduction in costs, the consequences of which the “New York Times” had detailed in early September. The campaign had to desert the television stations of certain key states, such as Michigan, Pennsylvania or Wisconsin, while the opposing camp was spending millions of dollars to occupy the space with advertisements.

Donald Trump did not spend a dollar of his fortune on his re-election

Faced with this perilous situation, Donald Trump hinted in September that he was ready to personally invest in the campaign, up to $ 100 million, according to Bloomberg. As of October 14, according to data from the FEC, he had done nothing: the billionaire has not given or lent a dollar to his campaign. In 2016, he also pledged to personally spend $ 100 million. In the end, he had only disbursed $ 18.6 million and lent $ 47.5 million. Campaign finance laws do not limit the amount a candidate can spend on their own campaign. That's how billionaire Michael Bloomberg, a 101-day Democratic primary candidate, spent $ 1.1 billion, 97% of which came from his personal wealth.

If Trump was reluctant to invest personally in his campaign, he did however benefit, as a supplier, from the expenses made on behalf of candidate Trump. According to FEC data for the years 2019 and 2020 that we looked at, more than $ 1.1 million went to companies bearing the president's name. The Trump campaign makes heavy use of Trump hotels and restaurants. It also pays more than $ 37,000 a month in rent for premises in New York's Trump Tower, for a total of nearly $ 800,000 over the reporting period. The money from the Trump campaign also benefited those around him. The company that received most of the funds - $ 306 million in 2019 and 2020 - was used to buy advertising space, but it also employed people close to the Trump clan, according to the "New York Times": Lara Trump, the wife of Eric Trump, and Kimberly Guilfoyle, the companion of his big brother, Donald Trump Jr. Another example: Parscale Strategy, a company founded by the former campaign manager Brad Parscale, received 2.3 million dollars over the last two years of the Trump campaign.

Alarmist messages to encourage donations

The data from the FEC also allow us to know the typology of campaign spending. At Joe Biden, the purchase of advertising space, especially on television, comes first, with $ 170.6 million spent in 2019 and 2020. Over the same period, $ 180 million was spent in the same way for the benefit of Donald Trump. Spending on digital advertising and salaries also figure prominently. Trump seems to have invested heavily in texting: nearly $ 19 million has been spent on this method of communication in the past two years, compared to less than $ 5 million in Camp Biden.

The top 10 expenses for each candidate show divergences in strategies between Trump and Biden. The table shows the ten most important expense categories for Joe Biden. Please note: the two campaigns do not always fill in the category field consistently in their declarations. The presentation below is therefore not exhaustive.

These fees correspond in particular to payments to American Express or to ActBlue, an organization that aggregates donations. ** Applicants are forced to return donations that are considered illegal by the FEC. Each election thus results in the rejection of tens of thousands of donations.

Donald Trump, he bet big on SMS and spent millions of dollars in legal fees.Party with a considerable delay, the Democratic candidate had even experienced financial difficulties during the primaries of his party, faced with the very effective system put in place by his competitor Bernie Sanders. But once nominated, Joe Biden benefited from an influx of donations, overtaking Donald Trump for the first time in May. The Democrat's secret: he benefits from the mobilization of small donors. In 2019 and 2020, more than $ 360 million raised by his campaign came from donations of less than $ 200, compared to just $ 225 million for Donald Trump, despite sky-high spending to contact potential donors - over 145 million dollars according to the "Times", which also takes into account the spending of the Republican party carried out for this purpose. Both campaigns put pressure on their donors. On Facebook, the Biden camp does not hesitate to play in an alarmist tone to push Internet users to open their wallets. “We're going to be direct. We are worried about the collection figures for the month of July, ”said a message in August. Trump plays ultra-aggressive marketing techniques, documented by a Twitter account created by a Daily Beast reporter, which reproduces messages sent by the campaign. Flattery, dramatization, your vaguely threatening tone: everything goes.

Below is a message sent on Wednesday, signed by Eric Trump, the president's son, congratulating the recipient: “You are AMAZING. You have been identified as one of the best players. ”

Your different tone for that September 6 message: "Friend, we just sent President Trump the first list of candidates for an opportunity to meet him in Washington D.C. on September 25, and he was disappointed to find your name ABSENT." How come?"


The figures collected by the FEC concerning the campaigns of the two candidates are not enough to paint a complete picture of the financial reality of the election. Millions of additional dollars are spent by political action committees (PAC), structures officially detached from the candidates but which intervene powerfully. According to the FEC's tally, structures of this type spent nearly $ 100 million against Donald Trump, while only $ 33 million was spent in support of the president. Conversely, $ 64.5 million was spent by PACs against Joe Biden and over $ 44 million was spent on his behalf. This year, another factor reportedly worked to Biden's benefit: ActBlue, an organization offering solutions to facilitate small-dollar donations to Democratic candidates and progressive associations, saw its counters soar. . The non-profit association raised more than $ 3.8 billion for the 2020 elections through 101.6 million donations made by 13.6 million unique donors. In 2016, ActBlue had raised "only" $ 635 million. These figures reflect the enthusiasm of part of the Democratic electorate: small donations are the ultra-majority, with an average established at 37 dollars. And the news helped fuel this deluge of money: the 24-hour fundraising record - $ 70.6 million - was hit on September 19, after the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who the Republicans have just hastily replaced with an ultra-conservative, Amy Coney Barrett.

The outgoing president is far ahead of small donations equal to or less than $ 200. It is also exceeded for donations exceeding $ 2,000.

Distribution of sums collected from individual donors.

These huge sums have not only boosted the candidacy of Joe Biden. The money is being invested in the elections for Congress, again with record spending. In South Carolina, a state of 5.1 million people firmly attached to the Republican Party, one of President Trump's loyalists, Senator Lindsey Graham, is threatened by Democrat Jaime Harrison, a nationally unknown, who had raised over $ 108 million as of October 14, which is $ 40 million more than Graham's campaign. By way of comparison, in France, a country of 67 million inhabitants, expenses for a presidential campaign are capped at 22.5 million euros per candidate for those who reach the second round. Too little to replay "Star Wars" every five years.

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