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Why Money Isn’t Enough for a Spot in the Democratic Party’s Presidential Debates Anymore

He hasn’t officially announced his campaign yet, but South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg has met the criteria to get on stage for the first two Democratic Party presidential debates, to be held in June and July. Buttigieg tweeted Monday that he raised more than $7 million in the first quarter of this year.

And while the March 31 first-quarter fundraising deadline prompted increased calls for money from all of the 2020 candidates, it’s not just quantity of money they’re seeking—it’s the quantity of donors.

In order to appear in the first two debates, the Democratic National Committee has added new criteria: Candidates must either earn 1% support in multiple polls or receive campaign contributions from 65,000 individuals and a minimum of 200 unique donors per state in at least 20 U.S. states. Last May, the Republican National Committee voted to disband its debate committee, suggesting that the party does not have plans to host its own presidential debates.

Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign says he already has more than 760,000 donors, with the aim of reaching 1 million. Beto O’Rourke’s campaign reportedly raised money from 128,000 donors in the first 24 hours after he announced his candidacy, while Sen. Kamala Harris received support from 38,000 donors in the same timeframe.

Buttigieg had already surpassed the individual donor threshold by mid-March, receiving donations from more than 76,000 individuals. On April 1, he became the first candidate to provide his overall fundraising figures publicly.

Despite exceeding expectations, however, Buttigieg’s total donations pale in comparison to those of better-known candidates. Harris announced on April 1 that her campaign had raised $12 million and 218,000 individual contributions in the past two months, without the help of corporate PACs or federal lobbyists, a notable jump on her first-day fundraising total of $1.5 million. Sanders’ campaign, meanwhile, brought in $18.2 million in the first quarter from 525,000 individual donors. He had raised $5.9 million in the first 24 hours after announcing his candidacy, a figure that reached $10 million within the first week.

Former Representative Beto O’Rourke, who pulled in an impressive $6.1 million in the first 24 hours after announcing his campaign, raised $9.4 million in the first couple weeks of his candidacy. Sen. Cory Booker raised over $5 million, according to his campaign. Sen. Amy Klobuchar raised more than $5.2 million, but that reportedly includes an undisclosed sum that could only be used in the general election. And Sen. Elizabeth Warren raised over $6 million.

Andrew Yang, a less-known 2020 presidential candidate running on a platform of universal basic income, reported April 2 that his campaign had raised more than $1.7 million from over 80,000 individual donors. It is unclear whether he has qualified for the debates.

It is possible that we won’t know the fundraising totals of many of the others until they file their fundraising and spending reports with the Federal Election Commission on April 15.

Ultimately, it will still be an uphill battle for whichever candidate emerges the winner of the Democratic primary: President Trump has not stopped fundraising since entering the White House and started this year with $19 million in his campaign account.