Politics

Time Running Out for Big-Spending Booker

N.J. senator needs $1.7M to stay afloat, spent $1.6M in second quarter on payroll alone

Cory Booker
Cory Booker / Getty Images

Democratic presidential candidate Cory Booker is well short of his $1.7 million fundraising goal just days before his campaign's self-imposed deadline to stay in the presidential race.

Booker issued a plea for campaign cash with 10 days to go before the end of the third quarter fundraising period, promising to drop out of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary if he failed to raise $1.7 million by Sept. 30. Booker's campaign site shows the New Jersey senator remained about 10 percent shy of the target on Saturday night. He must raise $170,000 within the next 24 hours to meet the deadline. Booker acknowledged his fundraising woes in an interview with the New Yorker released Saturday, boasting about the sympathy donations he has elicited from supporters of his 2020 rivals.

"When I was walking through the Iowa steak fry, as a vegan—we put out there that we were not going to campaign if we couldn’t raise money," Booker said. "I had people in other T-shirts—other candidates’ T-shirts—saying, ‘Oh, I’m an X-person supporter, but need you in this race, man! I gave you five bucks.'"

The Booker campaign, which did not return requests for comment, has insisted the fundraising plea did not stem from a "risk of running out of funds," but Booker has burned through cash at a much higher rate than his primary competitors. His campaign spent a total of $5.3 million in the second quarter, about $800,000 more than he raised. He spent nearly $1.6 million on staff salaries, which accounted for 30 percent of all second quarter expenditures.

Booker's salary payments topped those of South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg and Senator Kamala Harris (D., Calif.), who each spent $1.4 million on payroll. However, Booker's total fundraising haul of $4.5 million was well below that of Buttigieg and Harris, who raised $24.9 million and $11.8 million, respectively.

Buttigieg also set an end-of-quarter fundraising goal, asking for $1.5 million in just five days.

Only the primary's three frontrunners—former vice president Joe Biden, Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren, and Vermont senator Bernie Sanders—spent more than Booker on campaign staff. All three candidates are outpacing Booker significantly in fundraising and polling. Recent polling shows Booker between 0 and 3 percent support.

Veteran campaign strategist Jim Messina predicted Booker's struggle to survive in July.

"Money in a presidential race is oxygen, and they're going to run out of oxygen if they can't stay competitive," Messina said during an appearance on MSNBC.

Booker's call for help was quickly labeled a gimmick, though the campaign pushed back, framing the move as "unprecedented transparency." Booker has since admitted the fundraising appeal is, in part, a "stunt." It would not be the first public relations stunt the Democrat has used to raise money. In an attempt to woo donors, Booker's campaign manager promised to go meatless for a month if the campaign met its fundraising goal. Failure to meet the goal may come as a blow to the environment—Booker previously said the planet "simply can’t sustain" people eating meat. The New Jersey senator became vegan after realizing that eating eggs "didn't align with [his] spirit."

Money woes have already worked to cull a crowded Democratic primary field. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.) dropped out of the race in August. She spent $4.2 million during the second quarter, which ended in June, after having only raised $2.3 million.