By Ginger Gibson and Grant Smith
WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden had $9 million in his campaign bank account at the end of September, significantly less than his top rivals in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, data released on Tuesday showed.
While Biden leads most national public opinion polls, he has struggled to raise money and is relying heavily on wealthy donors who can write five-figure checks instead of smaller donations made via the internet.
Biden raised $15.7 million in the third quarter, according to disclosures filed to the Federal Election Commission, ranking as the fourth highest fundraiser among the 19 candidates seeking to become the Democratic nominee to challenge Republican President Donald Trump in the November 2020 election.
Biden also spent more than he raised over the July to September quarter, resulting in a burn rate of 112%. Candidates with high burn rates – the pace at which they are spending their campaign funds – can be forced to make tough choices if they run out of cash.
Conversely, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, who has emerged in opinion polls as Biden’s chief rival for the nomination, has excelled at raising money online and finished September with $25.7 million in cash. Warren’s burn rate for the quarter was 76% – the lowest rate of the top five Democratic candidates.
Spending decisions for a presidential campaign can be critical before voting begins in primary contest states.
Candidates who spend too much can find themselves without enough cash to pay staff or purchase advertisements as voters head to the polls. However, a candidate who doesn’t spend enough can miss the opportunity to build name recognition and bolster support.
Trump, who launched his reelection campaign the day he took office and has been able to raise money since then, had the lowest burn rate at 35% and finished the quarter with $83 million in cash.
Of the Democratic candidates polling in the top five, only Senator Kamala Harris spent at a higher rate than Biden during the third quarter, but she managed to finish with more cash. She finished the quarter with $10.5 million and spent at a 123% rate during the third quarter.
Senator Bernie Sanders raised the most money of any Democratic candidates during the third quarter, hauling in $28 million in largely online donations and allowing him to finish September with the most cash.
Democrat Tom Steyer, a billionaire who put $47.6 million of his own money into his campaign in the third quarter, raised a further $2 million from donors. Steyer spent $47 million in the quarter, more than doubling the amount of cash spent than any other Democratic or Republican candidate, including Trump.
Candidates focussed their spending on salary, investing in staff in early primary states who are key in trying to organise supporters to win votes in heavily contested areas, the data showed.
Before this quarter, Warren had outpaced her rivals on payroll spending. She spent $5.3 million on salary in the third quarter, more than doubling what she spent in the first two quarters combined. For the year, Warren spent $9.1 million on salary plus $4 million in payroll taxes.
But in the third quarter, Sanders caught up to Warren on staff spending. His third quarter payroll was $5.7 million – bringing his total payroll for the year to $8.7 million.
Biden spent $4.5 million on salaries in the third quarter, exceeding the $1.3 million he spent on advertising.
Democrat Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, was the only candidate in the quarter who did not list salary as his largest single spending category. He spent $4.4 million in online advertising and $3.6 million on salary, a shift from the previous quarter when he spent little on advertising.
(Reporting by Ginger Gibson in Washington and Grant Smith in New York; editing by Jane Wardell)