New Filing Shows Largest 3.7% of Donors Account for Half of Campaign Funds

WASHINGTON, D.C. – On Thursday, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) published quarterly fundraising reports for the presidential race. The new data shows that donors giving more than $1,000, who account for 3.7 percent of all contributors, currently provide for more than half of all direct fundraising in the election. If a small donor empowerment program were in place, like that proposed in the Government by the People Act (H.R. 20), analysis by U.S. PIRG Education Fund reveals that the same top donors would represent only nine percent of total fundraising, while contributors currently giving $200 or less would account for more than 79 percent of all direct campaign fundraising.

“Our elections should be about big ideas, not big checks. Today’s fundraising report shows that candidates from both parties are relying on large donors to fund their campaign,” said Dan Smith, Democracy Program Director for U.S. PIRG Education Fund. “Meanwhile, voters on both sides of the aisle are ready for reform. It’s time we start talking about solutions that put voters back in charge of our elections.”


Analysis of the data released by the FEC shows that a small donor matching program could dramatically change fundraising in today’s presidential race. Under this system, small campaign contributions would be matched six-to-one with limited public funds for candidates that agree to a lower contribution limit. A similar small donor matching system is already at work in places like New York City, where participating candidates in the 2013 city council race raised 61 percent of their contributions from small donations and matching funds.

Reworking the FEC’s data within a small donor matching framework shows that under a small donor matching system the top 3.7 percent of today’s contributors would provide for only 9.1 percent of all direct campaign fundraising. At the same time, donors currently contributing $200 or less would account for more than 79% of direct fundraising under a small donor matching system.

See below for a full methodology.

“Small donor empowerment programs reduce the outsized influence of special interests and wealthy donors, putting regular voters back in control of our elections. Today’s analysis shows that these programs don’t just work, they turn today’s big-money fundraising tactics on their head.”

U.S. PIRG Education Fund will soon release its second quarterly report revealing how 2016 presidential candidates would fare under a small donor matching program. For details on the upcoming report, please contact Chris MacKenzie by email, at [email protected] or by phone, at (202) 309-7010. You can also access a full copy of the last quarterly report, Boosting the Impact of Small Donors.


PART 1: To calculate the current impact of large donors under today’s campaign finance system, U.S. PIRG Education Fund used the total number of donors contributing $1,000 and over and divided that number by the total number of contributors so far in this election. 3.7% of all donors met the $1,000 benchmark. We estimated the number of unitemized contributors by dividing the sum of unitemized contributions by an average of $70 per small donor. U.S. PIRG then took the total sum of those large contributions and divided by the total sum of all direct contributions to candidates in the 2016 presidential race. Contributions of $1,000 and over accounted for 50.9% of all funds in the race. Contributions to the following candidates were included in this analysis: Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Donald Trump, Calry Fiorina,  Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul, John Kasich, Lindsey Graham, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Martin O’Malley.

PART 2: To measure the impact of a small donor six-to-one matching system, U.S. PIRG Education Fund totaled all contributions of $200 and less, and multiplied by seven to account for both the original contributions and hypothetical matching funds. Itemized contributions of over $200 were reduced to $200 to fit within the contribution limits of the small donor matching program. That total was then multiplied by seven to account for both the original itemized contributions and public matching funds. Candidates raised a total of $303,712,294 from today’s small donors and their matching funds, and recieved $87,360,000 from today’s large contributors and their matching funds. Using these calculations U.S PIRG found that a total of 77.6% of funding under a small donor matching program was supported by existing small donors. The same candidates used in Part 1 of this methodology were included in analysis under PART 2.

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With public debate around important issues often dominated by special interests pursuing their own narrow agendas, U.S. PIRG Education Fund offers an independent voice that works on behalf of the public interest. U.S. PIRG Education Fund, a 501(c)(3) organization, works to protect consumers and promote good government. We investigate problems, craft solutions, educate the public, and offer Americans meaningful opportunities for civic participation.