Candidates for office were practically swimming in grassroots money over the last few cycles, as politics increasingly went online and the money followed.

This cycle, the well is drying up.

A POLITICO analysis of federal campaign finance data found a dramatic downturn in small-dollar donations across the board.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee reported raising $15.2 million from donors giving less than $200 through the end of June, compared to $23.5 million over the same period two years ago and $19.5 million in 2019. The National Republican Congressional Committee’s fundraising from small-dollar donors similarly dropped to $7.1 million through the end of June compared to $20.6 million two years ago and $8.7 million in 2019.

On the presidential level, Joe Biden’s campaign reported $10 million raised in the second quarter from donors giving less than $200, less than half of what the previous two incumbent presidents had raised at this point in the cycle. For Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, the GOP presidential field’s top fundraiser in the second quarter, just $3 million out of $20 million raised came from small-dollar donors.

Though candidates are optimistic the small-dollar energy will return as the campaign season heats up, a sudden shortfall in grassroots giving would signal a tectonic shift in politics. The flow of this cash has made political stars of outsiders, and given campaigns a cushion when big donors tap out.

Now, politicians may need to look for other ways to stuff their campaign coffers.

“It’s going to be a problem for everybody, you just have to find a way to get through it,” said Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.), who attributed the trend to the effects of inflation.

Until this cycle, small donations had been rocketing upward, reshaping political fundraising. But the dropoff is unlikely attributable to any one factor. Republicans tend to blame inflation. Democrats say their followers are giving in other ways. Fundraising professionals point to the relative calm of politics compared to crisis-level political events that drove online donations in the past. One explanation seems to be the nature of fundraising itself.

“I have heard from folks on the ground in my district about fatigue with emails and texts,” said Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas), who added that “really aggressive” fundraising campaigns can sometimes backfire.

Some fundraising professionals have raised concerns about decreased effectiveness of online fundraising tactics as voters become inundated with emails and text messages and campaigns have relied more heavily on email list rentals. At a minimum, the ease of communication creates more competition between campaigns.

Still, Escobar, who is also a Biden campaign co-chair, and others are optimistic that donors would return as campaigning picks up in earnest.

“As we lean on the issues important to the American people, we are going to see that engagement go back up,” Escobar said.

Democrats have long held an advantage among online donors — ActBlue, the lead Democratic grassroots fundraising platform, had 7.4 million distinct donors during the 2022 cycle. Its Republican counterpart, WinRed, had just 2.5 million that cycle. This dynamic is replicated in campaigns and aligned groups — and remains true even as funds fall across the board.

Biden’s campaign pointed to signs of optimism, including that 30 percent of donors did not give to the Democrat’s 2020 campaign, as a sign that he is tapping into a new audience.

Though Trump hasn’t yet released his small-dollar information, which goes through a joint fundraising committee that will file at the end of the month, he is likely doing much better than his GOP rivals. Among those with a federal donation history, the trend compared to previous cycles is apparent. Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), who has a reputation as an exceptionally strong GOP small-dollar fundraiser, pulled in $1.2 million from donors giving less than $200 in the second quarter. That’s far behind the $4 million he raised from them in the same period in 2021 as a Senate candidate.

Meanwhile, an analysis of all House and Senate campaigns from Middle Seat, a Democratic fundraising and digital firm, showed grassroots giving down nearly 50 percent compared to the first half of 2021.

The drop in grassroots donors may mean parties have to get creative about the battle for the House. NRCC Chair Richard Hudson (R-N.C.) said they are working on a plan to boost small dollar fundraising, but seemed to manage expectations on grassroots energy returning, citing the effects of inflation.

“We’re just careful not to overextend ourselves and to continue to grow our fundraising base, just knowing that the huge amount we raised pre-economic downturn is not going to come back right away,” Hudson told POLITICO.

Although inflation dropped to its lowest level in two years this month, it remains above pre-pandemic levels. The most common occupation listed in FEC reports is “retired,” and retirees are more likely to be affected by the rising prices while not benefiting from similarly rising wages, said Kenneth Pennington, cofounder of Middle Seat, the Democratic firm that found the drop in small-dollar giving to congressional committees. Pennington also noted that nonprofits had similarly struggled to maintain fundraising — suggesting the decline in donations may not be just about politics.

But for Democrats, the current political climate (not just the economic one) is not as conducive to grassroots giving as past cycles. The party raked in cash after the Dobbs decision last year (when inflation was even higher), and benefited financially from Trump’s presence in the White House.

So too did Republicans themselves. Trump’s fight to overturn the results of the 2021 election dominated GOP fundraising appeals in 2021, driving record fundraising then. Trump himself has said that the multiple indictments he faces are great for juicing his fundraising. But the energy of the past to cycles does not seem to be matched so far.

“Voters are looking at the likelihood of a Trump-Biden rematch and don’t seem to be excited about that,” said Eric Wilson, a Republican digital strategist. “Enthusiasm is down.”

Campaigns are still looking to leverage smaller moments that might motivate their donor bases. A Biden campaign spokesperson pointed to Trump’s CNN Town Hall and DeSantis’ buggy Twitter campaign launch as events the campaign had successfully leveraged with small donors. So-called “Dark Brandon” merchandise — a riff on an internet meme featuring Biden with laser eyes — has also been the best-selling online, the campaign said.

Ironic memes can also help make up the difference. This week, Biden’s campaign blasted a fundraising pitch via text messages and email featuring a video effectively narrated by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) seeking to attack Biden on policy issues, including comparing him to former Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Across all platforms, the video was viewed more than 53 million times as of Thursday.

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