On Wednesday, some prominent Minnesota Democrats will write checks for $5,600 or $2,800 to serve as hosts or co-hosts for Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s first presidential campaign fundraiser in her home state.
The event invitation includes marquee names in Minnesota politics, including former Vice President Walter Mondale and former U.S. ambassadors Sam Kaplan and Sam Heins.
The reception is the kickoff of a vital part of Klobuchar’s White House bid that will unfold largely out of public view: the quest to raise millions of dollars to fuel a national campaign in a crowded field.
The task is daunting. Klobuchar’s campaign believes she must raise about $25 million to get through Iowa’s Feb. 3, 2020, caucuses and into the New Hampshire primary.
Hillary Clinton’s losing 2016 presidential campaign committee raised almost $564 million. Klobuchar has raised about $30 million for her campaigns since 2005, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
The three-term senator’s presidential run got off to a good start, her campaign said. She raised more than $1 million from online and grassroots supporters in the 48 hours after she declared her candidacy on Sunday. More than 95 percent came from people who gave less than $100.
Klobuchar, like several of her competitors, won’t accept contributions from corporate PACs or federal lobbyists. “There are insidious forces … trying to drown out our voices with big money,” she said in her announcement speech.
Passing on corporate PAC and lobbyist money is more symbolism than sacrifice, said Michael Malbin, director of the Campaign Finance Institute, a nonpartisan Washington, D.C., think tank.
“You should not assume that money translates into votes,” he said, but votes can generate cash.
“The candidate who does well in Iowa will get money for New Hampshire,” he said. A strong showing in Iowa’s caucuses could help Klobuchar “raise enough to springboard to the Super Tuesday states.”
Small donors — those who give $200 or less — have become a way to measure presidential candidates’ base of support as well as their fundraising prowess.
Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., announced her presidential candidacy last month. By the next day, her campaign said, she had collected $1.5 million, including average contributions of $37 from 38,000 people.
Klobuchar’s campaign website asks for $5 donations “to show the strength of our people-powered campaign.” From 2013to 2018, 23 percent of individual contributions to her Senate campaign committee were from small donors. Almost half gave more.
“What matters now is that Amy has the ability to attract … support from a broad base of people,” said Rick Kahn, treasurer for the late Sen. Paul Wellstone’s campaigns. An “army of small donors” will keep her bid viable, he said.
“A spontaneous organic response — that’s what will happen for Amy,” he said.
The advent of internet fundraising makes giving simple and helps balance the disproportionate influence of big donors, said Tyler Cole, legislative director of Issue One, a nonprofit group in Washington, D.C., that works to reduce large donors’ clout.
“Less than one-half of 1 percent of Americans give contributions of more than $200,” he said. “It’s always better to have more people involved in the system.”
Still, the likelihood that the candidates are soliciting donations from many of the same small donors means that big givers’ choices will help determine front-runners.
Presidential candidates also must demonstrate appeal beyond their home states. California, New York and Texas followed Minnesota as top sources of 2017-2018 donations to Klobuchar’s re-election campaign, according to the Federal Election Commission.
Adam Emmerich, a partner at a New York law firm and a former law school classmate of Klobuchar, is one of her most prolific donors and fundraisers. Her bipartisanship gives her “a centrist appeal” that he believes will be “appealing to the American people.”
Over the years, big show-business names including director Steven Spielberg, TV producer Marcy Carsey and studio executive Jeffrey Katzenberg have given to her.
Jess McIntosh, a Democratic strategist who has worked for former Sen. Al Franken and for Clinton’s 2016 campaign, said the large field of candidates has major donors “sitting on their hands” for now.
For that reason, she said, early fundraising hauls “will be less of an indicator” of candidates’ prospects this year. “What’s going to matter is how quickly these candidates can amass serious, small-dollar, grassroots support.”
Mike Erlandson, a former state DFL Party chairman, said Klobuchar and the other Democratic candidates all start from the same place.
“The challenge for any candidate — and Amy would be no exception — is to inspire people to write checks of really any size and do so with a base of support that goes from Maine to California,” he said.
“She may not be the No. 1 fundraiser at the start of this thing, but you don’t have to be,” Erlandson said. “She does inspire people in a way that’s pretty impressive.”
Steve Silton and his wife, Heidi Silton, both Minneapolis lawyers, will be at Wednesday’s reception.
“We think she’s an antidote to the current politics,” he said. “We reached out to the campaign and said we will do whatever we can within our means.”