Lionel Messi and Gift Cards: GOP presidential candidates are eager to make the debate stage
Doug Burgum donors were needed more than the donations themselves. So for the past few weeks, the North Dakota governor’s presidential campaign began offering $20 gift cards — or as Burgum calls them, “Biden economic relief cards” — to the first 50,000 people who donated $1 to his new campaign. Fully paid, the gambit would cost the campaign a million dollars, but it also achieved its goal: on Wednesday, the governor of North Dakota announced that his campaign exceeded the contribution limit to make it to the debate platform in the GOP presidential primary. “We passed the 40,000 mark today. We have more gift cards to give away. We’re going to keep going,” Burgum said in an interview with CNN, adding that his campaign has received donations from individuals in all 50 states.
As for criticism that he’s paying to play, Burgum turned to the campaign: “I think that’s really funny,” he said. “This is about a smart strategy, it’s about an entrepreneur with a business sense.”
Burgum isn’t the only Republican presidential candidate who is big on individual donors. As Donald Trump dominating poll after poll of likely Republican voters in the presidential primary, lesser-known contenders are scrambling to get on the Fox News debate stage next month to make their mark. To make the cut, the candidates are put through the Republican National Committee’s campaign tests: They must hit certain poll numbers (candidates must hit at least 1% support in three national polls, or 1% in two national polls and 1% in an early state poll from two different states: either Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, or South Carolina), and bring in a total of 40,000 donors as well as special states 2.
For just a $1 donation to his campaign, the mayor of Miami Francis Suarez offered supporters have the opportunity to enter a raffle Lionel MessiInter Miami’s first soccer game. Likewise, Perry Johnson— a Republican businessman and failed Michigan gubernatorial candidate — offered a T-shirt emblazoned with a slogan that supported him Tucker Carlson in exchange for a $1 donation to his campaign, according to Politico. Vivek Ramaswamy, their campaign has reportedly hit the donation threshold, launched the “Vivek’s Kitchen Cabinet,” in which the biotech entrepreneur offered 10% of the venture capital to backers who help raise venture capital—what critics said resembled a multi-level marketing scheme. “I found that most political fundraisers get a cut of the money they raise,” Ramaswamy told Politico in an explanation of his strategy. “Why should they control political fundraising? They shouldn’t.”
Making applicants meet a grant threshold is not a new idea; the Democratic Party applied the same rate in 2020, which initially banned billionaire Michael Bloomberg, among other candidates, from early discussions before the qualification level was finally dropped. But Republican presidential hopefuls certainly seem to be pushing the limits of legal tactics.
Brendan Fischer, executive director of the political watchdog Documented, explains that these efforts to get local donors could “set a bad precedent, because campaign funds are not supposed to be used as a piggy bank to provide financial benefits to friends and supporters.” Federal campaign laws prohibit straw donors – in other words, it is illegal to pay someone back to make campaign contributions. Some legal experts question whether this is what these Republicans are essentially doing: “Giving a donor a $20 gift card seems like giving away that way,” Michael S. Kang, professor at Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law, told NPR. If it’s not illegal, it seems at least a little unethical. Fischer echoed the sentiment. Burgum’s gift card scheme “raises a number of potential legal issues,” he says. “Perhaps Burgum’s campaign should have asked the FTC for an advisory opinion before proceeding — questions about whether it might violate the straw donation ban or whether it might violate the personal use ban.” ” (Vanity Fair has reached out to Burgum’s campaign for comment.)
So far, Trump, Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, Chris Christie, Tim Scott, and Ramaswamy are on track to qualify for the debates, based on their standing in recent polls and contributions, as reported by Politico. But there are no other beautiful names. The former vice president is reportedly among them Mike Pence. In an interview with Fox News on Tuesday morning, Pence talked about how his campaign is still short on donors – and he also seemed to give his opponents a glimpse of accepting, shall we say, interesting tactics to attract donors. “From a voting point of view, we will qualify easily. But it is a challenge to get 40,000 donors in a few short weeks,” he said. “We don’t offer gift cards, we don’t offer kickbacks, we don’t offer tickets to football games, we just travel.”