Gillibrand Spending Thousands on Giveaway In Attempt to Make Debate Stage

2020 hopeful polling at less than 1%

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) / Getty Images
August 27, 2019

New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand is willing to lose tens of thousands of dollars on a fundraising gimmick in an attempt to make the September debate stage.

Gillibrand launched a t-shirt giveaway at a time when she needs approximately 15,000 additional unique donors to qualify for the third round of Democratic primary debates. She began offering first-time donors a campaign t-shirt retailing at $30 in exchange for a $1 contribution in August.

If the giveaway proves successful, Gillibrand could lose nearly $130,000 on the cost of shirts alone, according to a Washington Free Beacon analysis.

The campaign did not return request for comment.

Gillibrand outlined the giveaway in a number of August fundraising emails.

"Time is running out to get a FREE Gillibrand 2020 t-shirt if you donate $1 toward securing Kirsten's spot on the September debate stage," said one fundraising email sent earlier this month, according to the New York Post.

The shirt — a cotton/polyester blend offered in a "gender-neutral cut" — retails at $30 on Gillibrand's campaign store.

According to FEC filings, Gillibrand uses Financial Innovations Inc., the self-described "leading vendor" of liberal political merchandise, as the campaign's vendor. Though it is unclear exactly how much money Gillibrand is set to spend on the t-shirt giveaway, a quote from Financial Innovations sharing Gillibrand's shirt specifications lists an average cost of $9.63 per shirt, with cost differences depending on the shirt size.

Gillibrand revealed she had "just over 110,000" unique donors in an Aug. 19 interview with the Washington Post. Candidates must attract 130,000 unique donors to qualify for the September debate.

At this cost, if Gillibrand is successful in courting 15,000 unique donors, she will lose nearly $130,000 on the cost of shirts alone, with more money being spent on marketing the giveaway. Even if the expensive fundraising drive is successful and Gillibrand reaches the 130,000 unique donors required, she is still unlikely to qualify for the debate.

In addition to the donor requirement, candidates must demonstrate that they have received at least 2 percent support in four DNC-approved polls to qualify. Gillibrand has only reached that mark once, according to NBC News. Monmouth University, a DNC-approved pollster, showed the New York senator's support at less than 1 percent in a poll released Monday.

With her support in the Monmouth poll too low to register, Gillibrand still needs three polls to qualify before the Wednesday deadline. NBC News called the deficit a "tall order," as pollsters often avoid surveying in August due to vacationing respondents.

Gillibrand's struggle to qualify for the upcoming debate comes after a former staffer called on the senator to end her presidential campaign.

"Everyone I have talked to finds her performative and obnoxious," said the staffer.

"It would be best if she decided that this was not her time," added a Gillibrand fundraiser.