At first glance, John K. Delaney appears to have had a blockbuster first quarter this year, hauling in more than $12 million for his presidential campaign coffer.
But the vast majority of that came from Delaney himself, not from enthusiastic supporters he’s encountered during his nearly two years on the campaign trail.
Delaney, the former Maryland 6th District congressman who resigned his seat in an attempt to win the Democratic presidential nomination, loaned his campaign $11.7 million in the first quarter of this year, according to campaign finance data released last week.
He received about $435,000 in contributions from donors during that time, the records show.
He was dramatically outpaced by other candidates, including Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who raised about $18.2 million this year. President Trump’s re-election campaign, meanwhile, reported raising a whopping $30 million during that time.
Delaney appears to be struggling to gain traction with donors and voters nationwide as he attempts to clinch a coveted spot at the televised Democratic presidential primary debates slated for June and July.
The Democratic National Committee announced in February that it would make room for as many as 20 candidates in those first debates, based on their ability to meet certain requirements.
Given the deluge of Democrats running, the DNC said candidates could qualify by registering 1 percent or more in certain public polls released ahead of the debates or by showing that they’ve received donations from at least 65,000 unique donors from at least 20 states. If more than 20 candidates qualify, the DNC will pick candidates for the debates based on those who meet both thresholds.
With that in mind, Delaney — a former businessman with an estimated net worth of $233 million in 2015, according to the Center for Responsive Politics — came up with a plan.
“We came up with kind of a clever little twist to it,” Delaney said in a March video posted to his campaign website. He offered to give $2 to charity for every $1 donated to his campaign. “It’s really simple, and it’s a pretty good deal,” he said. The website allows donors to pick from a list of charities.
According to an analysis by the website FiveThirtyEight, Delaney is among the candidates who have met the polling criteria, but still fall short of the small donor requirements. Six Democratic presidential candidates — Pete Buttigieg, Kamala Harris, Beto O’Rourke, Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Andrew Yang — were among those who already met both criteria.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) met the polling requirement, but hadn’t yet surpassed the small donor requirement, FiveThirtyEight reported.
Booker’s campaign reportedly took aim last week at Delaney’s loan to his campaign after the fundraising totals were released.
“Friend, this weekend, we found out that one of the other Democrats in this race has given over $11 million of his own money to his campaign. Self-funding is something Cory just can’t and would never do,” according to a Booker campaign email obtained by CNN.
Delaney campaign spokesman Michael Starr Hopkins, mocked Booker’s polling in a statement to CNN, “If I had Booker’s numbers, I’d go negative, too.”
Asked on the campaign trail about the fundraising email, Booker said, “I’m not even sure what you’re talking about, because again we are not taking swipes at other candidates,” according to The Hill. “The reality is that we need to have a Democratic Party that shows how you run campaigns in this Democratic Party field by respecting people you’re running against, and so I’m going to continue to conduct myself in that manner.”
Recent presidential polls have shown both Booker and Delaney lagging behind some of the other candidates, such as Sanders, Harris, O’Rourke and former Vice President Joe Biden, who isn’t officially running. Still, Booker’s numbers are higher on average than Delaney’s, according to Real Clear Politics polling data.
Delaney isn’t the first presidential contender to shovel cash into his own White House bid.
Trump invested $66.1 million of his own money into his 2016 presidential campaign, USA Today reported. He announced the summer before the election that he’d convert $50 million that he had lent to the campaign into a contribution amid concerns that he’d use donations to pay himself back for his expenses.
“Self-funding appeals to voters who feel that the self-funded candidate is less beholden to donors or special interests,” said Richard Hasen, a campaign finance expert and a professor of law and political science at the University of California, Irvine.
And while self-funding can “jumpstart a campaign” and “make someone viable,” he added, “even a billionaire would have a hard time fully funding his or her campaign.”
And money alone doesn’t determine election outcomes, he said. It “doesn’t get the public to buy things that they’re otherwise not willing to buy.”
In 1992, independent presidential candidate Ross Perot spent $64 million on his own campaign, The Washington Post reported. Businessman Steve Forbes spent $37.4 million in 1996 trying to win the Republican nomination.
Delaney has gotten donations from some high-profile personalities since he launched his campaign in 2017. They include former New York Republican representative Richard Hanna, Atlantic Media owner David Bradley and Gap Inc. chairman Robert Fisher.
Delaney’s campaign did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
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