Bernie’s in trouble! No wait, Bernie’s doing great!

Yesterday, VTDigger reporter Kit Norton posted a story that seemed to indicate flagging support for America’s most senior junior senator, Bernie Sanders. Norton reported that “nearly 200” (he never provided the exact figure) of Sanders’ biggest 2016 donors were instead giving their money to Elizabeth Warren this year. The takeaway, I guess, is that crowds of Bernie backers have fled his campaign.

We’ll get to the story’s flaws in a bit. Right now, we move on to a story posted by Norton today, that shows Sanders doing extremely well in the fundraising department. In fact, during the just-concluded third quarter of 2019, Sanders received $25.3 million — as Norton reported, “the largest quarterly fundraising haul of any Democratic candidate in 2019.”

It was a sharp increase from Sanders’ second-quarter haul of $18 million, and shows that, in spite of recent bad news on the polling and campaign organization fronts, Sanders continues to inspire supporters to put their money where their opinions are. It also shows that Sanders is doing just fine, thank you very much, without those big donations from the faithless “nearly 200.”

Which brings us back to Norton’s first piece. It involved a lot of digging through campaign finance reports which, I can tell you from personal experience, is a depressing slog. I always start doing campaign finance pieces with a sense of optimism and purpose, which at some point turns into my inner voice shouting “Why the hell am I doing this?”

So, good on Norton for doing the spadework — and for reaching out to quite a few of the ex-donors for comment.

And now, the bad news. There is no context whatsoever in the story. Nothing to tell the reader how serious a loss this is for Team Bernie.

Not only does Norton fail to provide the exact number of Sanders-turned-Warren contributors, he crucially fails to tell us how many big-dollar donors Sanders had in 2016. If he had, say, less than 1,000 big donors, then “nearly 200” is a dramatic decline. If he had something more like 5,000, “nearly 200” begins to look more like a rounding error.

Also, it must be noted that “big donors” are a minor part of Sanders’ fundraising operation. The maximum allowable individual gift to a candidate is $2,700. Each of the “nearly 200” gave somewhere between $1,000 and $2,700. But Sanders is far less dependent on max donors than most other candidates. His strength lies in his ability to draw small gifts from a hell of a lot of people.

And that strength has not diminished. In fact, it has grown. Sanders may have lost “nearly 200” people who are able to cut four-figure checks, but he has even more small donors than ever before. This year, he’s received donations from more than three million people.

I don’t know if the omissions were deliberate because the full facts would have made the story seem irrelevant, or if it was just some careless reporting and editing. Either way, Norton’s piece is left floating in a fog of uncertainty over what, if anything, it really means.

It also sucks that he had to go out and write a piece one day later that undercut his own previous story. But them’s the breaks.

I’ve been critical, Lord knows, of Sanders’ campaign and his 2020 chances. I still think he’s in a tough spot politically. But if there’s one place he isn’t in trouble, it’s fundraising. Notwithstanding the “nearly 200.”


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