Cruz goes for crowdfunding, ‘one small donor at a time’

November 10, 2015

Texas Senator Ted Cruz is methodically building up a state-of-the-art nationwide grassroots network to help lift him over the establishment voting bloc in the GOP presidential primary. While the tools have started small, they are allowing Cruz supporters to reach potential new donors and new voters to build a more loyal base of support than his competitors may have.

Ted Cruz answers questions from the media after speaking in Des Moines, Iowa November 6, 2015. REUTERS/Mark Kauzlarich

Cruz’s team plans to roll out another pioneering new fundraising feature this month that will allow donors to designate specific costs they’d like to help fund in their home states. The idea: to spur even greater personal connection to the senator’s campaign.

Chris Wilson, the Cruz campaign’s director of research and analytics, told Reuters he’s been testing the feature in Kansas, allowing state residents to pay directly for Cruz’s fee to file his candidacy for their state’s ballot.

“Our goal is to create motivation for giving specific to each of the states,” he explained, adding that he is working with the campaign’s digital team to build out platforms for states across the country and will roll them out as they are ready. Among the functions for which they intend to raise money directly are rent for each state’s campaign office and the cost of staff in those states.

Already, the Cruz campaign has 6,000 donors with automatic deductions set up for regular campaign giving, and according to spokesman Rick Tyler, the amount that brings in pays for its entire field operation.

“I think an emphasis on low-dollar donors helps candidates scale their campaigns appropriately, and it also keeps them afloat in tougher times,” said Republican digital strategist Patrick Ruffini. “When campaigns go through rough patches, big donors tend to close their checkbooks.”

So far, the Cruz campaign has shown a greater ability to scale than competitors like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who folded after building too big a team for his coffers to support. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush is encountering a similar problem: The most recent FEC reports show 36 staffers–down from 127–on Bush’s payroll as of late September.

 The new state-based effort is an extension of CruzCrowd, an online fundraising platform, which, the site boasts, is the world’s first crowdfunding effort in presidential politics. It pits small donors against each other and offers small prizes for those who are able to draw in the most donations from other supporters.

“The Cruz campaign is exploring whether supporters will bundle for small dollar donations in hopes of getting a badge at the same rate as those who bundle for high dollar donations in hopes of getting an ambassadorship,” said David Avella, president of the Republican group, GOPAC.

Republican database firm CFB Strategies launched CruzCrowd about a month ago and is charged with continually finding new ways to update the online fundraising infrastructure. The firm’s founder, Trace Anderson, said that Cruz “has always challenged his staff to think outside the box to find new ways to use the grassroots support that’s out there,” whether it’s to raise money or engage potential voters.

Former Senate communications director, Amanda Carpenter, echoed that her former boss “challenges everybody on his staff and makes constant demands to try things in a new way.” She continued, “He’s getting people to buy into the process along the way,” adding that unlike Donald Trump, “he’s not dependent on the media.”

To that end, the campaign also created a voter mobilization app called Cruz Crew that encourages users to send messages to potential supporters (whom the campaign will identify for the user from the supporter’s own list of contacts) and provides them with lists of likely Republican voters and their addresses in the users’ neighborhoods so they could reach out to them on their own. That is a task typically organized and financed by a campaign’s field operation.

“What they’re doing is networking the grassroots in a very personal way,” said Mark Meckler, an influential tea party founder and grassroots activist. Meckler received a text declaring support for Cruz and a link to the video of the candidate campaigning. “This was the most personal way I had ever been touched by a campaign. I haven’t received anything like that from anyone else.”

The closest any other Republican candidate has come is Rand Paul, whose messages suggest only that the campaign is strapped for cash rather than encouraging support, Meckler said.

All of his online tools are set up to help Cruz catch a lot of fire in breakout moments. Veteran Republican communications strategist Doug Heye pointed out this week on social networking news site, Sidewire, “Carson is strong in polls, but watch for Ted Cruz [to] try to fill this conservative lane. He’s been strong in the debates – hitting his conservative mark every time, which has, not coincidentally, helped raise a lot of money one small donor at a time.”


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