The South Bend mayor’s campaign is pushing bundlers to help keep his momentum going with a big second-quarter fundraising total.
Pete Buttigieg is aiming to shake the Democratic presidential race with a massive fundraising total this quarter, staking his claim in the top tier of the primary and demonstrating staying power after rocketing to prominence two months ago.
Buttigieg is encouraging moneyed supporters to juice his campaign’s fundraising with a new bundling program, details of which were recently circulated to some donors and obtained by POLITICO. Members at different levels of the program pledge to raise anywhere from $25,000 to $250,000 for Buttigieg over the course of the primary campaign and receive special perks, including briefings with the candidate and senior campaign staff.
Buttigieg is asking supporters who join the program to bring in half of their total fundraising commitment by the end of next month — the end of the current fundraising period, after which campaigns have to disclose how much money they have raised since April 1. The aggressive timetable reflects the South Bend, Ind., mayor’s fast rise in the 2020 presidential race and the importance of maintaining forward momentum in a crowded primary. Buttigieg has regularly placed in the top five in primary polls since starring in a March town hall, and a big fundraising total would help prove he could avoid the fate of past flash-in-the-pan candidates and keep rising in the Democratic race.
Buttigieg’s fans, who include a growing number of well-connected Democratic organizers and donors, think he’s poised to make a splash.
“He’s getting surprisingly strong traction,” said Charles Adams Jr., a former U.S. ambassador to Finland who raised more than half a million dollars for President Barack Obama. Adams is co-hosting a June 1 fundraiser for Buttigieg in San Francisco that is almost at capacity for attendance, he said, and he has “decided to be principally helping Pete Buttigieg” in the race.
“It is Pete Buttigieg, to me, who is the most compelling, the greatest breath of fresh air and, I think, the most likely to excite and to mobilize voters,” Adams said.
Buttigieg entered the presidential race as a largely unknown long shot, with neither a network of big donors who had supported prior bids for office, like Joe Biden and Kamala Harris had, nor a massive Bernie Sanders-style online following. But Buttigieg caught fire online in March and has quickly built a fan club of donors who are packing into frequent soirees for Buttigieg in cities across the country, including midlevel supporters attending “grassroots fundraisers” with lower ticket prices.
During the upcoming visit to the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, Buttigieg is scheduled to cram no fewer than four fundraising events into one day: He will stop in Oakland for a fundraiser whose hosts include former Facebook executive Chris Cox and wife Visra Vichit-Vadakan; head to a pair of events in San Francisco, including one that Adams and former U.S. Ambassador Jeff Bleich are helping host; and finish the day with an event south of the city in Hillsborough.
The furious pace of in-person fundraisers has set Buttigieg apart from some other Democratic candidates, including those who have preferred mining for digital dollars and others who have had trouble attracting widespread interest from Democratic donors. It has vaulted the mayor into competition with some of the top Democratic fundraisers: Biden organized a national finance structure for his campaign with regional fundraisers in each part of the country before he launched his bid. And Harris is in the process of building out a major bundling program for her campaign, with top fundraisers set to gather for a retreat in California in early June.
Observers expect Buttigieg, who raised $7 million during the first three months of the year, to be among the top fundraisers for the second fundraising period.
“It’s really quite remarkable that in a field of 25 candidates — in such an unprecedented, large field of many accomplished individuals — Mayor Pete Buttigieg has been able to galvanize audiences and hold the attention of the Democratic public,” said Robert Zimmerman, a New York-based Democratic fundraiser who has not endorsed a candidate but gave Buttigieg the biggest allowable donation, $2,800.
Two of Buttigieg’s upcoming San Francisco area events have ticket prices starting at $25 and go up to $2,800, with the higher ticket prices garnering access to special VIP receptions. The tiered pricing helps make Buttigieg’s events more accessible to younger and less wealthy donors — some of whom are new to face-to-face political giving — whom the campaign is courting alongside the traditional moneyed class.
Buttigieg’s new bundling program, for example, offers participants “mentorship and networking opportunities for both experienced and less experienced fundraisers to connect, strategize, and ideate,” according to the memo reviewed by POLITICO.
People who participate in the lowest tier of organizing pledge to raise $25,000 during the primary and at least $10,000 by June 30 — a fraction of the $125,000 that top-tier organizers for Buttigieg are asked to bring in by that date. They may raise money “through house parties and other ways to bring a wider group of donors into the campaign.”
“We are inclusive and want everyone to be a part of this effort,” the memo says. “Join us.”
Buttigieg’s top-tier bundlers — referred to as his “National Investors Circle” — pledge to raise at least $250,000 during the primary, with half coming before the end of this quarter. For those top fundraisers, there are several benefits listed on the memo, including quarterly briefings with Buttigieg, monthly briefings with senior campaign officials and access to “Speaker Series conversations” and other events.
The work to set up fundraising structures in the second quarter reflects how hard candidates across the presidential field are working to raise money since the initial burst of energy surrounding their campaign launches. Even Sanders, whose online fundraising netted him more than $18 million in the first quarter — the biggest total in the Democratic primary field — has recently hired a fundraiser, a first for his presidential efforts, to organize events at which Sanders can raise money from supporters in person for the first time.
Zimmerman cautioned that chasing small-dollar donors is as crucial as chasing big bundlers this election cycle and said he was in favor of Buttigieg’s two-pronged approach to raising small and big dollars alike.
“The reality is: Donors who max out at $2,800, there aren’t enough of them,” Zimmerman said.