3,000 years ago, a heavily armed 6ft 9in giant strode out from the ranks of the Philistine army each morning for 40 days and bellowed the same message to their Israelite opposition across the valley: “Choose a man and have him come down to me. If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us.”
Eventually on the 40th day, a young shepherd (who happened to be delivering food to his soldier brothers that morning) took him up on his challenge and stepped forward, armed only with five smooth stones and a sling.
The giant was Goliath and the boy was David. The rest is – quite literally – history.
Fast forward 3000 years to the Spring of 2016 and a similarly imbalanced battle of political wits is unfolding on the other side of the pond.
The US presidential election can seem a bafflingly complex process, littered with alien terms such as primaries, caucuses, and Super-Tuesdays. But if you park that language for a moment and look instead at the bare bones of the money driving each candidate, you will find perhaps the most dynamically influential use of Crowdfunding we’ve yet seen – and it could well be the critical factor in shaping who is the next Commander-in-Chief of the world’s most powerful nation.
But this blog is going to ignore the vulgarity of the Trump ‘phenomenon’ and focus instead on the money driving the race between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders to win the presidential nomination for the Democratic Party.
Clinton began her campaign back in 2015 with the sort of financial backing you’d expect for a bet on the prospect of night following day – $114.4 million to be precise, and that’s before we even got to 2016. Much of that money came from the Clinton family’s formidable network of donors, built up over the years by herself and husband Bill – aka Slick Willy. She has also benefitted to the tune of $57.5 from the ‘Super-PACs’ – which are the committees that raise unlimited amounts of money from corporations, unions, associations and individuals to campaign for or against a presidential candidate.
She was a dead-cert, nailed on, invincible.
Her rival – Bernie Sanders – had just $0.1 million from Super-PACs.
He didn’t have the backing of big business or Wall St. He didn’t have a network of big-hitting donors. He wasn’t part of the establishment. All of which meant he was an outsider with little or no chance.
But all that changed when, in a nationwide television broadcast, he said: “I am going to hold a fundraiser right here, right now, across America.” The tsunami of online donations that followed almost broke their servers. In January alone he raised $20m to Clinton’s $15m and now has a campaign war-chest of $93m – more than half of it from donations of $200 or less. In one 24-hour period he raised $6.5m and he did it simply by saying: “Please help us raise the funds we need, whether its 10 bucks, 20 bucks or 50 bucks”.
His funders are the crowds of ordinary American citizens, with modest or little income, who were looking for something different. Now he has the backing of a Super PAC – but it isn’t a multinational or a bank – it’s a Nurses Union.
In fact, so effective was his fundraising, it prompted an email from Clinton’s Campaign Finance Director, which read: “For the first time in this campaign, we’re being outraised by our opponent. This should be a very loud wake-up call.”
It would seem that Bernie Sanders and David may share more than just the Jewish faith. Sanders has some methaphorical stones.
And if Clinton is to be his Goliath, then crowdfunding could well be his sling.