Gillibrand Makes Campaign Changes as Fundraising Woes Raise Concern

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (JOHN AMIS/AFP/Getty Images)
May 17, 2019

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.) has made changes to her campaign in light of fundraising woes that are causing consternation within her ranks, according to a New York Times report.

Despite the high profile of a presidential candidacy, Gillibrand raised less money from small contributors in the first quarter of 2019 than in six of the eight previous quarters, according to federal campaign records reviewed by the Times.

She's still short of the 65,000-donor threshold, one of two different Democratic National Committee requirements candidates can pass to make the first debates on June 26 and 27 (she has achieved the other, reaching at least 1 percent support in three different early-state or national primary polls). However, the only way to virtually ensure a spot would be to pass both thresholds, and Gillibrand has been beaten to the donor number by such novices as entrepreneur Andrew Yang and spiritual guru Marianne Williamson.

She raised a paltry $3 million in the first quarter of 2019, in spite of hailing from a Democratic stronghold that's also the nation's fourth-largest state. For comparison, former representative Beto O'Rourke (D., Texas) raised $6 million—twice Gillibrand's first-quarter haul—in the first 24 hours after he announced his bid.

While she's tried to show the public she's "probably having more fun than the other candidates," as she recently told CNN, the fundraising issues are causing what the Times called "particular consternation inside the campaign."

That's led her to shake things up, including her digital ad operations:

Ms. Gillibrand is now reorganizing her online operations and trying to turn around her political and financial fortunes with her high-profile criticism of the new laws in Georgia, Alabama and other states that drastically restrict abortions. As she sounds the alarm, and raises money off her fight, she is trying to attract new supporters to a campaign in great need of them.


Now, Ms. Gillibrand is making some changes. Her campaign is winding down the role for one of her longest-serving political and digital firms, Anne Lewis Strategies, where she spent $5.6 million in 2017 and 2018. That was nearly 60 cents of every dollar she spent, much of it to buy Facebook ads. Ms. Lewis's firm received another $826,000 in Ms. Gillibrand's first two-plus months as a presidential candidate — by far her single largest expenditure.

This month, Ms. Gillibrand began to bring that digital work and ad buying "in-house," said Ms. Kelly, leaning on two respected Democratic digital strategists, Gavrie Kullman and Emmy Bengtson, already on staff. They immediately saw dividends.

Gillibrand, one of the most liberal members of the U.S. Senate, has centered her campaign around women's issues.

She trekked to Atlanta on Thursday to rail against the newly signed pro-life law there, as well as similar legislation being passed in states like Alabama and Missouri. She's also boasted about her ability to win in red and purple areas across the country, pointing to her victories in a GOP-leaning district as a Democratic congresswoman in the 2000s.

However, she held views on guns and immigration at the time that she says now make her feel "embarrassed" and "ashamed."

The Times report's opening sentence was also revealing: "In the two years leading up to her 2020 run, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand spent millions of dollars building up a network of online and grass-roots donors who could power her coming presidential campaign."

Gillibrand told New York voters she would not run for president and would serve a full six-year term if re-elected in 2018. She almost immediately went back on that promise after her landslide victory, leading to scathing editorials from multiple New York newspapers for lying to voters.