WASHINGTON ― Having won office just seven months ago, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) won’t face re-election for another 2,000 days or so. But already, she is spending massive amounts of money on digital advertising from her campaign account.
The nearly $300,000 she’s spent on those digital ads in the first three months of 2017 has sparked private speculation about whether the freshman senator is in fact prepping for a different sort of race. A fast-rising star within the party, Harris is often included on shortlists for possible presidential candidates in 2020. That she’s essentially investing in email acquisition and brand-building only further suggests interest in a White House bid.
A Harris strategist, speaking on condition of anonymity, insisted that the presidency is “not the motivation” for her digital expenditures. Rather, the strategist said, Harris is simply looking to shore up her finances. The atmosphere of activist energy permeating Democratic politics during the turbulent early days of the Trump administration has given Harris’ team an opportunity to dramatically upend their traditional fundraising structure.
“I had never seen anything like it,” said the strategist. “This may be a once-in-a-lifetime moment from the standpoint of not just the short-term opportunity to raise money, but how we increase our reach… The opportunity is there to get out of the traditional fundraising rat race and to make a direct appeal to donors on a widely distributed small-dollar basis. And obviously we are building our online fundraising capacity because now, for the first time in Harris’ career, we have an opportunity to scale it up.”
Harris’ team is not wrong. This is a golden age of Democratic online organizing. According to experts, the wave of anti-Donald Trump sentiment may represent a rare opportunity for lawmakers to shift away from a reliance on big-money donors and toward a system popularized by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) during his presidential run: small-dollar giving that begets sustained forms of activism.
“When you stack it up against other ways to raise money, it has the advantage that when you’re fundraising, you’re also mobilizing a base that you can use for other actions,” Michael Malbin, the head of the Campaign Finance Institute, told HuffPost. “The important thing is that these are people who might not only vote for them, but might recommend them to other people.”
Campaign fundraisers say the deluge of money currently coming in online is unlike anything the party has ever seen in the first quarter following a presidential election. More than one operative described investments in digital advertising as “free money,” and as a chance for someone with an eye on the White House to build a foundation for that campaign.