How online donations are fueling the election

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No Republican member of the House raised more money from online donations last quarter than Speaker Mike Johnson.

On the Democratic side, the top recipient of these donations had a different profile: It was Harry Dunn, the former Capitol Hill police officer and veteran of the Jan. 6 riot who is running for office for the first time in his life.

The revolutionary impact of online political donations was on vivid display in the last fundraising quarter, showing how small contributions have helped level the field between the most powerful people in the country and a range of charismatic candidates, folk heroes, ideological crusaders and people running in especially high-profile elections.

The ease of giving has dramatically expanded the pool of donors in just a few election cycles and helped campaigns bring in greater hauls than ever before. And as online donations ballooned in recent years, they became a majority of funds raised by congressional candidates. Now, a POLITICO analysis shows how it has helped establish new dynamics in campaigning and fundraising.

Politics is increasingly nationalized, and members of Congress who once relied on local contributors can now rake in money from across the country. Well-timed messages can bring in tens of thousands of dollars, and campaigns increasingly rely on — and seek to generate — newsy, viral moments that will fire up their online base. Candidates who can cultivate a loyal base of recurring donors raise sums of money every month that would have been eye-popping a few cycles ago.

The biggest fundraisers aren’t just powerful legislative leaders, such as Johnson, or vulnerable incumbents and their high-profile challengers — they’re digitally savvy campaigns and candidates with appealing backstories, like Dunn or Eugene Vindman, a former national security adviser now running for Congress, whose brother played a key role in former President Donald Trump’s first impeachment trial.

In the first quarter of 2024, House and Senate campaigns received more than five million online donations from more than 1.2 million donors. The details of those contributions are revealed in campaign finance reports from ActBlue and WinRed, the major Democratic and Republican payment processors.

While not all money is given online — candidates still wine and dine major donors at in-person fundraisers — the data provide a comprehensive picture of a new type of donor that has reshaped campaigns over the past decade: The highly engaged online base.

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