Joe Biden is redefining presidential campaign frugality

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President Joe Biden’s advisers have insisted they’re running a purposefully lean reelection campaign as their GOP opponents bleed cash.

They weren’t kidding.

Biden’s campaign spent a total of $1.1 million in the second quarter of this year, a remarkably small amount that would put him behind several Democratic Senate candidates in terms of expenditures.

Biden had four people on his payroll during that time: Campaign manager Julie Chávez Rodríguez, principal deputy campaign manager Quentin Fulks, spokesperson Kevin Munoz, and general counsel Maury Riggan. His campaign spent less than $1,500 on travel, accommodations and airfare. On rent, he spent nothing. He has not opened a campaign headquarters yet and much of his staff has been working out of the Democratic National Committee’s building.

It’s a vastly different approach than his old boss, former President Barack Obama, took in 2011 when he was running for reelection and spent more than $11 million in the second quarter of that year. And it has sparked concern among Democrats over what they see as the slow pace of the campaign.

In particular, some Democrats expressed anxiety about what they viewed as Biden’s mediocre small-dollar donor operation — a sign, they argued, that there is a lack of excitement for the president. Across the campaign and a joint-fundraising committee, Biden brought in more than $10 million from donors giving less than $200. But it was still less than half of what Obama raked in from small donors during the same period in 2011. Both were running with largely token primary opposition.

The total was slightly more than the $8.3 million Biden raised in unitemized donations during the second quarter of 2019. But he was a primary candidate then. Now, he is a president who possesses an email list that his campaign has said includes “close to 25 million email subscribers.”

Biden’s team has projected confidence, dismissing the idea that they should be spending more now. And aides said that 30 percent of their “donor universe” this quarter were new donors since 2020. They note that it is early in the cycle. Other Democratic candidates also saw similarly unexceptional small-dollar numbers in the second quarter, as did Republicans.

Unlike Obama, Biden enjoys a flush DNC — and his campaign is leaning on the national party heavily in this early stage of the election. The goal, according to Biden advisers, is to run an efficient operation that spreads costs across the board. The DNC has more than 300 staff members, an aide said, and the organization’s communications, fundraising and research teams are particularly involved in Biden’s reelection. The DNC’s technology infrastructure and organizing aides are also playing a key role.

Biden’s campaign, the DNC, and their joint-fundraising committees announced Friday that they raised more than $72 million combined in the second quarter of the year. Jeffrey Katzenberg, Biden’s campaign co-chair, said that number proves that the team’s frugal approach is the correct one.

“This fundraising blockbuster is an affirmation that the plan and the strategy is working super effectively,” he said. “Because there is no measure that is, I think, more revealing than how your supporters support you with their checkbook.”

Fundraising expenses accounted for only 16 percent of money raised by the Biden Victory Fund, the larger of the president’s joint fundraising committees, a campaign official said.

During a private call with donors on Friday about this quarter’s fundraising haul, Chávez Rodríguez, Biden’s campaign manager, reiterated the team’s view that their opponents are wasting cash while they stow theirs away. She said that “MAGA Republicans” trying to oust Biden are “burning through their resources in an extremely divisive primary.”

One of Biden’s biggest expenditures in this past quarter, totaling about $332,000, was service fees for the Democratic small-dollar fundraising platform ActBlue. Some of his other larger expenses were for text message outreach ($226,000), payroll and payroll taxes ($153,000), and legal services ($98,000).

Biden’s campaign reported few fundraising expenses overall, but accepted transfers from joint-fundraising committees, and often joint-fundraising committees can pick up a lot of fundraising expenses.

The Biden campaign also said at least a half-dozen staffers started after June 30, when the second quarter ended, including communications director Michael Tyler.

In a statement, a Biden spokesperson suggested that it will continue its approach of working closely with the DNC throughout the entire campaign.

“Part of our victory strategy is to run a one-team operation. Staff, resources, and financing from across the DNC and Biden-Harris 2024 are and will be dedicated to the reelection effort, from finance to communications to outreach and more,” said Munoz.

“From a reporting perspective, it may look and feel different than prior campaigns, but by all our metrics of success this is a proven and winning model — already helping deliver election wins for Democrats in places from Wisconsin to Jacksonville.”