Media Fall Hard for Biden's Reelection Fundraising Spin

Joe Biden
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July 18, 2023

President Joe Biden's team put on a master class in media spin over the weekend with the release of its first reelection campaign fundraising numbers.

After anonymously teasing its "strong" figures earlier in the week, the Biden campaign on Friday released only the totals it raised in combination with the Democratic National Committee—along with a lot of hype. The resulting headlines read like Biden campaign press releases.

NPR: "President Biden Posts 'Blockbuster' Three-Month Fundraising Total: $72 Million":

President Biden is starting his reelection campaign with tens of millions of dollars in the bank, dwarfing second-quarter fundraising totals already announced by the campaigns of former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

CNN: "Biden Raised $72 Million in His First Quarter of Fundraising Since Announcing Reelection Bid":

President Joe Biden raised $72 million for his reelection effort and for the Democratic Party in his first quarter of fundraising since launching his reelection bid in April, his campaign announced Friday.

The showing could help quell some concerns about the president’s ability to fundraise as he seeks a second term. His campaign boasted an average contribution of $39 from nearly 400,000 donors and said 97% of all donations were less than $200.

Biden’s campaign, which has yet to open a headquarters and maintains a skeletal staff several months in, also boasted a sizable war chest, with $77 million in cash on hand at June 30, the end of the quarter.

USA Today: "Biden Raises $72 Million Since Announcing Reelection, Doubling Trump Over Same Stretch":

President Joe Biden's reelection campaign said Friday it raised a combined $72 million with the Democratic National Committee in the second fundraising quarter, doubling the amount former President Donald Trump raised during the same three-month period.

MSNBC: "Biden Surrogate Messina Touts Fundraising Haul: ‘Biden Outraised All The Republicans Combined’":

"There's a whole bunch of Democrats this morning, taking a big sigh of relief. These numbers are just incredibly impressive," said [Biden campaign surrogate Jim] Messina. "And the other number that really strikes out is that Biden outraised all the Republicans combined."

New York Times: "Biden and D.N.C. Announce $72 Million in Fund-Raising, a Substantial Haul":

President Biden’s campaign announced on Friday a combined fundraising haul of more than $72 million from April through June alongside the Democratic National Committee and a joint fund-raising committee, a figure that far surpasses what former President Donald J. Trump and other leading Republican presidential candidates have announced. ...

"This is proof positive that this party and its people and the country believe in Joe Biden and the accomplishments of this administration," said Henry R. Muñoz III, a former Democratic National Committee finance chairman. "This reaffirms Joe Biden’s appeal to the working people and everyday heroes of this country."

Axios: "Biden Campaign Raises $72M in Second Quarter":

President Biden raised over $72 million with the Democratic National Committee and joint fundraising committees from April to June, the campaign announced Friday.

Why it matters: The numbers may quell some private concerns over his early fundraising numbers, and they give the first major look at the war chest behind his reelection campaign.

Acknowledged NBC News White House correspondent Mike Memoli: "The numbers we're talking about today are the numbers the campaign wants us to talk about heading into the weekend before everyone tunes out and the report lands with more specifics."

Liberal Twitter seized on the news.

Then came Saturday, the deadline to disclose full fundraising figures from April 1 to June 30. In context and without the padding of the DNC numbers, Biden's performance looked a lot more like the slow start the media had been fretting about for months.

According to a New York Times analysis of the disclosures:

-Biden individually raised less money than DeSantis.

-Biden had less cash on hand than Trump or even GOP Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.).

-Biden barely spent $1 million—less than Democratic challenger Robert F. Kennedy Jr. or some senators.

New York Times: "Biden, With Sluggish Small Donations, Waits for Liberal Energy to Rise":

Democrats involved with Mr. Biden’s campaign and the world of online fund-raising detailed a host of reasons for Mr. Biden’s relatively low small-dollar haul.

Google and Apple have made it harder for email senders to see data about who has opened solicitations. Inflation slowed political donations across the board. Donors are exhausted by the unending flow of emails asking for money, and recipients are responding to far fewer of them.

At the moment, Democrats aren’t quite as fired up as they were in 2018 and 2020, when Donald J. Trump’s presidency opened floodgates of liberal money, or ahead of the 2022 midterms, when the Capitol riot, the rise of the election-denial movement and the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade all motivated donors.

And Mr. Biden is not an insurgent candidate who is motivating students to put up posters of him on dorm-room walls, as Mr. Obama or Senator Bernie Sanders did in their campaigns. His low-key White House and bare-bones campaign haven’t yet motivated supporters to rage-donate to his campaign.

Axios: "Charted: Biden's inflation-adjusted war chest":

Why it matters: Fundraising totals provide a snapshot for which campaigns will have the resources to go the distance. But they are also a barometer for party enthusiasm about a candidate.

Some outlets softened the whiplash by couching the new information in reports focused on the Republican candidates' money challenges.

CNN: "Alarm Bells For DeSantis, Pence Falls Behind And Biden Stays Frugal: Takeaways From New Campaign Finance Reports":

Despite talking up the big numbers he’s raised with the DNC, Biden’s campaign is a bare-bones operation, his new filing shows–a slow start that’s sure to only deepen worries among some Democrats about the president’s reelection preparations.

NBC News: "Fundraising Reports Have Warnings for DeSantis, But He’s Still the Top Trump Challenger":

Biden’s filing, like DeSantis’, was a good reminder why we preach caution around campaign finance deadlines. While Biden and the Democrats spent Friday spiking the football on a combined $72 million haul between the campaign, the Democratic National Committee and state/territorial parties, the late-Saturday night filing showed Biden’s campaign itself only directly raised a little more than a quarter of that.

That’s significantly less than the $46 million former President Barack Obama’s campaign raised during his first quarter running for re-election, despite changes in campaign finance practices and law allowing Biden to raise larger sums.

ABC News: "Pence Struggles, Trump is Ahead of DeSantis and More Presidential Fundraising Highlights":

The figure itself is not gargantuan -- in the second quarter of 2019, during his last campaign, Biden raised $22 million while running in a contested primary.

However, his team is keeping their war chest well-stocked by running a lean operation. They spent a paltry $1.1 million during the three months, paying only four full-time staffers and dishing out less than $1,500 on travel, accommodations and airfare.

Biden was slow to kick off 2024 campaign events after his announcement, holding his first -- and so far his only -- campaign rally nearly two months after he declared. But the president and his team have since made a big push on fundraising.

Others just kept spinning.