VoxFairfax has on a few occasions cited Gibbs’ rule #39 [yes, the NCIS protagonist] that there are no coincidences. On January 21, 2010, the Supreme Court, in a moment of unfettered libertarianism, decided that corporations and unions could flood electioneering in the United States with large sums of money in the interests of First Amendment rights. (Quoth Mitt Romney: “Corporations are people, my friend.”) It was seen by critics as a blow to electoral participation by voters and grass roots activists.
The collective sigh of disappointment among voters was palpable, mostly accepting that what all knew to be true was now made legally binding. The Citizens United decision signaled another step toward removing one person-one vote from the electorate. Now, however, just 10 years past, data in Virginia seem to show that the voting public has not surrendered to the big donors. The Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP) has just published a visual depicting data describing small donor contributions to political campaigns over the past decade.
Democrats have dominated small, online donations (i.e., less that $100) since 2011, reaching 273,995 in 2019, compared to the GOP’s 19,705. That’s 14 times more small contributions going to Democrats.
The information may or may not be coincidental in regard to Citizens United, but it does seem to indicate a relationship. VPAP’s data demonstrate that the Commonwealth’s Democrats have dominated small, online donations (i.e., less that $100) since 2011, reaching 273,995 in 2019, compared with the GOP’s 19,705. That’s 14 times greater small contributions flowing to Democrats. Over this same decade, Democrats have captured all three major statewide offices and in 2019 majorities in the two state legislative houses.
It is almost certain that Leroy Jethro Gibbs would pronounce this phenomenon not to be a coincidence. At the same time, the sheer proportions of small donor contributions reflect a renewed interest among the electorate to put its money where its votes are. However one reads the tea leaves, the results are promising that voter confidence in the popular electorate has not been irreparably damaged by Citizens United.
There appears to be a similar coincidence occurring in the national campaigns. The incumbent president has been campaigning and fundraising since his inauguration, while the Democratic candidates each started much later. At the end of 2019, the Trump campaign boasted that it had raised an unprecedented $463 million versus the $450 million raised by all opposition candidates combined. The GOP campaign further bragged that it took in $46 million in the last quarter of 2019 based upon energy from the impeachment. Hmm!
The Sanders campaign announced its final quarter results at $34.5 million, the majority of which was contributed by small donors. The combined totals of some of the Democratic leaders in the race was another $87 million, for a grand total of $121 million–nearly 2.5 times that of the GOP. How much of that figure was spurred by impeachment was not indicated but one might reasonably assume that it motivated a number of contributors.
Thus, on the one hand, it seems Citizens United has not dampened the pocketbooks of Democrats, while impeachment, on the other, appears to have increased anticipation and motivation for the 2020 contest. Coincidence? Likely not. Rule #39 applies.