The GOP recently announced that there will be a minimum number of donors required to make the debate stage next month, and now lower-tier candidates have begun doing anything they can to reach 40,000 donors to get their shot at Trump and DeSantis.
That includes paying voters to donate to them to give them a donation.
In signs of a desperate campaign, one Republican presidential candidate has announced that he will pay you to support him. North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum has begun offering $20 gift cards to donors who give his campaign as little as $1.
The effort — billed in a fundraising text as an attempt to “help ease the burden of Bidenflation” — is a sign of just how unafraid Burgum is to dip into his personal wealth as he seeks the Republican Party’s nomination. It also reflects the difficulties of lesser-known candidates in reaching the Republican National Committee’s donor threshold to qualify for upcoming debates, Politico reports.
The Burgum campaign’s WinRed page indicated gift cards would be available for up to 50,000 donors — enough to make the August debate stage at a cost of $950,000 to the campaign if all donors only gave $1. A donor can only receive one gift card. His campaign said on Twitter that 50,000 people who donated would receive Visa or Mastercard gift cards at their mailing addresses. The scheme was first reported by FWIW, an email newsletter.
The total amount this may cost Burgum in his bid to reach 40,000 donors under the RNC’s rules to make the debate stage, along with hitting certain polling requirements and taking a loyalty pledge to support the party’s nominee, might not matter to him, since he has an estimated net worth of more than $1 billion and can also self-finance his campaign.
Burgum’s team, which hasn’t yet disclosed how many donors he has, framed it as a bit of altruism rather than political opportunism.
“Doug knows people are hurting because of 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,” spokesperson Lance Trover said. “It also allows us to secure a spot on the debate stage while avoiding paying more advertising fees to social media platforms who have owners that are hostile to conservatives.”
Burgum’s offer to donors has raised some ethical and legal questions.
“My immediate reaction to this scheme is a concern that it violates the federal prohibition on straw donors,” Michael S. Kang, a professor at Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law, told NPR. “It’s illegal to reimburse another person for their campaign contribution. Giving a donor a $20 gift card for donating seems a bit like that.”
Patricia Crouse, a political science and legal studies professor at the University of New Haven, said, “Depending on the outcome, it will either be viewed as genius or the dumbest political move in history.”
She continued by noting that while the practice might not be illegal, “from my perspective, it’s a bit unethical.” Burgum isn’t technically “buying” votes but he definitely is “buying the right to compete.”
The Republican National Committee set the threshold for competing on the debate stage on August 23 in hopes of shrinking the field of 2024 presidential hopefuls down to those who have an actual chance of beating Joe Biden while eliminating those who may be using the campaign to win celebrity status or land a talking-head job with one of the cable channels.
Burgum has found it difficult to gain traction since announcing his candidacy in May. The governor’s pitch to be the anti-DeSantis and anti-Trump, someone who will bring together the nation rather than fight ideological culture wars against the Democrats, has failed to blossom results so far.
ABC News reported that a national Quinnipiac University poll released in June found that few voters have heard of Burgum.
“It found 37% of all registered voters viewing frontrunner Donald Trump favorably, versus 59% viewing him unfavorably. For Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who’s Trump’s closest rival, the poll showed him with a 33% favorable, 48% unfavorable rating.
But the poll also contained another finding: A whopping 9-in-10 voters don’t know who Doug Burgum is. (Answer: He’s North Dakota’s sitting Republican governor who announced a presidential bid on June 7.)
Per the poll, 2% of all registered voters view Burgum favorably, 7% view him unfavorably and 90% say they haven’t heard enough about him to offer an opinion.”