How much is a dollar worth?
To Gov. Doug Burgum of North Dakota, quite a lot.
Mr Burgum is one of several Republican presidential candidates trying to reach a crucial threshold to qualify for the party’s first primary debate on August 23 – the requirement that only candidates with at least 40,000 individual donors to their campaigns be allowed on the stage
A long contender at the bottom of recent polls, Mr. Burgum is offering $20 gift cards to the first 50,000 people who donate at least $1 to his campaign. And one lucky donor, as his campaign advertised on Facebook, will have the chance to win a Yeti Tundra 45 cooler that normally costs more than $300 — just for donating at least $1. The unusual offer was earlier reported from FWIW, a newsletter that tracks digital politics.
Mr. Burgum’s push to prioritize donors over actual dollars is a sign of the desperation of some candidates to make the debate stage and capture some of the national spotlight from the Republican front-runner, former President Donald J. Trump, and his main rival, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida.
Former governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, another Republican candidate, recently ended a campaign with a direct appeal that flashed on the screen to “Donate today, get Chris Christie on the debate stage.”
Mr. Burgum’s campaign acknowledged that its requests were directly related to the debate and turned the gift cards into attacks on President Biden.
“Doug knows people are suffering from Bidenflation, and giving Biden Economic Relief Gift Cards is a way to help 50,000 people until Doug is elected president to fix this crazy economy for everyone,” said Burgum campaign spokesman Lance Trover.
Mr. Trover added that the efforts allowed the campaign to “secure a place on the debate stage by avoiding paying more advertising fees to social media platforms that have owners hostile to conservatives.”
Kyle Tharp, the author of the FWIW newsletter that reported on the requests, said that as part of his reporting process, he donated $1 to the Burgum campaign. He said no further information on how he would receive the gift card. The campaign later explained on Twitter that 50,000 donors would receive a Visa or Mastercard gift card to their mailing address.
The campaign did not respond to a request for comment on how many donors have contributed so far.
The campaign’s cash donations strategy could raise potential legal concerns, said Paul Ryan, a campaign finance attorney. Voters who make donations in exchange for gift cards, he said, could be considered straw donors because some or all of their donations are reimbursed by the campaign.
“Federal law says ‘no person shall make a contribution on behalf of another person,'” Mr Ryan said. “Here, the applicant is making a contribution to himself on behalf of all these individual donors.”
Richard L. Hasen, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles who specializes in election law, said that typically, campaigns ask the Federal Election Commission when they engage in new forms of donations.
The Burgum campaign’s maneuver, he said, “certainly seems novel” and “raises concerns about whether it violates the straw donation ban.”
But some of the legal uncertainty, Mr. Hasen added, stems from the fact that “operationally, campaigns spend a lot of money to get small donations, especially in cases like this where they’re trying to reach a debate threshold.”
Mr Burgum is not alone in using his vast wealth – he is a billionaire former software developer – to boost his campaign.
Perry Johnson, a businessman who also announced a hopeful offer for the Republican presidential nomination and who ran for Michigan governor last year, spent $80,000 to $90,000 on ads promoting $1 hats that read, “I identify as ‘Non-Bidenarian,'” Facebook records show. His campaign said in a recent announcement that it had reached 10,000 donors.
To qualify for the first presidential debate, candidates must have a minimum of 200 unique donors per state or territory in 20 states and territories, according to the Republican National Committee, which set the rules. They must also garner at least 1 percent in multiple national or early voting state polls recognized by the committee.
Shane Goldmacher contributed reporting.