John Delaney doesn’t need the donations. But he needs the donors.
The former Maryland congressman, who is running for the Democratic nomination for president, will personally donate $2 to charity for each new donor who contributes to his campaign, according to an announcement posted online Thursday.
His campaign said the unusual arrangement is designed to meet a rule established by the Democratic National Committee this cycle, which requires candidates to have 65,000 donors from 20 states to appear in official debates. Candidates can also qualify for debates by drawing 1 percent support or more in at least three polls.
The arrangement showcases the rush for small-dollar donors this cycle, which has been marked by the widespread rejection of big money groups and large corporate donors.
While candidates such as Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke have proven they have the ability to attract huge sums from large numbers of grassroots donors, Delaney has so far run a campaign funded largely by himself.
According to records available from the Federal Election Commission, Delaney has loaned or contributed more than $4.5 million to his own campaign. Delaney, who co-founded two publicly traded companies, is estimated to be worth more than $90 million, according to a 2018 Wealth of Congress report produced by Roll Call.
The Delaney campaign said that contributions will go to one of 11 preselected organizations, including Planned Parenthood, the Environmental Defense Fund and the Human Rights Campaign. The so-called Delaney Debate Challenge will apply to the next 100,000 new donors, according to the campaign.
“This prevents the media and DNC from picking your 2020 Democratic candidate for you,” Delaney wrote in a post on Twitter.
(That tweet said that Delaney would donate $2 for every $1 from a new donor. A spokesperson for Delaney clarified that Delaney will donate $2 to charity no matter how much the donor gives.)
So far, Delaney has spent heavily on a strategy that appears reliant on a surprise performance in Iowa, where his campaign has a deep presence. Delaney, who announced his campaign in 2017, has announced plans for six offices in the state.
While it is still early in the race, Delaney’s prodigious spending has so far not had a notable impact on national polling. In a recent survey of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, Delaney was the favorite of zero percent of respondents.
The DNC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.