In the months leading up to the 2020 presidential election, Roy W. Bailey, a Dallas businessman, received a stream of text messages from Donald J. Trump’s re-election campaign, asking for money in persistent, almost desperate terms.

“Have you forgotten me?” the messages read, Mr. Bailey recalled. “Did you leave us?”

Mr. Bailey knew the Trump campaign: He was the co-chairman of its finance committee, helped raise millions. for the effort and personally contributed several thousand dollars.

“Think about it,” Mr. Bailey said recently of the frequency of the messages and the pleading tone. “That’s how out of control and crazy some of this fundraising has gotten.”

He finally left Mr. Trump: He is now raising money for Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, whose campaign has vowed to avoid the kinds of online fundraising tactics that infuriated Mr. Bailey and that have spread in both parties, especially the Republican Party, in recent years because candidates tried to rally small donors.

No fake deadlines, Mr. DeSantis promised donors. No wildly improbable promises that sizeable contributions will be matched by commissions attached to the campaign. And don’t trick donors into recurring donations.

This strategy is one of the subtle ways that Mr. DeSantis’ team is trying to contrast him with Mr. Trump, who has often upset, blamed and sometimes misled small donors. Although his campaign did not directly call out Mr. Trump’s methods, on the day Mr. DeSantis announced he would run for president, his website prominently promised to avoid “smoke and mirrors,” “false matches” and “lies.” in his fund. raising

For the DeSantis campaign, the no-nonsense vow is risky. Mr. Trump, the most successful online Republican fundraiser ever, has shown that such tactics work. But Generra Peck, Mr. DeSantis’s campaign manager, said that approach harmed the long-term financial health of the Republican Party because it risked alienating small donors.

“We’re building a movement,” Ms. Peck said last month in an interview at the DeSantis campaign headquarters in Tallahassee.

So far, it’s hard to say whether Mr. DeSantis’ approach is working. His fundraising slowed after his campaign began in late May, and campaign officials did not provide figures that would shed light on its success with small donors.

The battle to raise money from average Americans may seem quaint in the age of billionaires and super PACs that have taken on outsized roles in American elections. But direct campaign cash is still, in many ways, the lifeblood of a campaign, and a powerful measure of a candidate’s strength. For example, GOP presidential contenders must reach a threshold of individual donors set by the Republican National Committee to qualify for the debate stage, a bar that already causes some candidates to engage in sneaky contortions.

To highlight what it bills as a more ethical approach to fundraising, the DeSantis campaign has dedicated a giant wall inside its modest office to writing the names — first name, last initial — of every donor to the campaign, tens of thousands of them. until now.

It is an intense effort. During business hours, campaign staffers — as well as Mr. DeSantis himself, in one instance — constantly write names on the wall in red, blue and black markers.

“We want our staff to look at that wall, remember who supports us, remember why we’re here,” Ms Peck said.

Mr. DeSantis’ advisers argue that being more transparent with donors could be a long-term way for Republicans to counter the clear advantage the Democrats have built in online fundraising, largely thanks to their online platform ActBlue, founded in 2004. A Republican alternative, WinRed, didn’t start until 15 years later. A greater share of Democrats than Republicans said they had donated to a political campaign in the past two years, according to a recent NBC News surveywhich means the GOP has a less robust pool of donors to draw from.

“One of the biggest challenges for Republicans, in general, is building the small-dollar universe,” said Kristin Davison, the chief operating officer of Never Back Down, the main super PAC backing Mr. DeSantis.

The real approach to deadlines and goals has been tried by other campaigns, including those of Senator Bernie Sanders, who has built an enduring network of grassroots donors in his two presidential runs.

Mr. DeSantis’ campaign said last week that it had raised $20 million in his first six weeks as the official presidential candidate, but the amount, which came from small donors, will not become clear until later this month, when campaigns file a second quarterly disclosures.

A tell-the-truth approach to campaign finance has been tested by other campaigns.Credit…Kate Medley for The New York Times

The campaign did not respond to a question about how many small donors have contributed so far. It set a goal of recruiting 100,000 donors by July 1, but by the end of June the wall had only about 50,000 names, according to a fundraising email.

And although Mr. DeSantis’ team has promised to be transparent when it comes to small donors, senior aides in the governor’s office have faced charges that they inappropriately pressured lobbyists to donate to his campaign.

Eric Wilson, the director of the Center for Campaign Innovation, a conservative nonprofit focused on digital policy, said the DeSantis campaign is wise to avoid online pressure tactics, which he likened to a “dopamine arms race” that burns out donors and turns off voters.

“They can be effective, but voters say they don’t like them,” Mr Wilson said. “You can’t make the whole meal around sugar.”

Mr. Wilson said he’s also seen other campaigns try more honest communications: “You’re starting to see a recalibration.”

For example, the campaign of former governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina said in May that Mr. DeSantis mimicked language used in Ms. Haley’s fundraising emails.

The ways campaigns reach potential small donors online grew out of old-fashioned telemarketing and fundraising by mail. Before email, campaigns sent fake telegrams, letters stamped to be hand-addressed, surveys and other tricks to draw in donations.

In the age of email and smartphones, it is easier to reach a large number of potential donors, but the risk of bombarding and overwhelming them is higher. It can also be harder to get people to open messages, let alone contribute. The subject matter must be compelling, and the offers must stand out – which can lead, for example, to dubious promises that campaigns will somehow “match” any contributions made, a practice that has been widely criticized.

Mr. Trump’s campaign sends about 10 emails a day, in addition to text messages. His campaign inflated bogus matching promises to the point of absurdity, telling donors their contributions would be matched “1,500%.”

A spokesman for the Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

The tactics are not limited to Republicans. Democratic groups have also been criticized and mocked for vague promises of “300 percent matches” in their fundraisers.

For its part, the DeSantis campaign said its strategy was designed to establish long-term relationships with small donors, rather than to suck them up as quickly as possible.

The DeSantis campaign has adopted a “subscription exclusive” model, allowing donors to join so-called tele-town halls with Mr. DeSantis (“You guys are part of the team,” the governor told listeners on a June 12 call) , gain. early access to merchandise, and get weekly “insider” updates. It’s the carrot, not the stick, a blueprint that campaign officials said has been adopted in part by the business world.

Mr. Trump’s campaign clearly took notice.

On Friday, in an apparent round of one-up fundraising, the Trump campaign announced a new donation initiative, saying it would build a “big, beautiful Donation Wall” at its New Hampshire headquarters.

“And I don’t mean written on the wall in pencil, as some other campaigns do,” said the campaign email, which was written in Mr. Trump’s voice, “but a heavy, respectable plaque with the names of our great donors. finely engraved inside.”

All for a $75 donation.

Patricia Mazzei contributed reporting from Miami.

By admin

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *