The rise of “small-dollar” campaign donations, harvested digitally via email and social media, has changed United States politics. Ideologically ambitious or otherwise risky-seeming candidates who might not have been viable in earlier eras have been able to run successful races by appealing directly to voters for financial support. Taken in combination with the feeling of alarmed helplessness that many Americans experienced during Donald Trump’s presidency, the small-dollar infrastructure generated an almost embarrassingly huge amount of funding for Democratic candidates in 2018 and 2020.
Not all of it was allocated efficiently. In particular, rank-and-file Dem donors—abetted by the questionable decision-making of party kingmakers—dumped bales of digital dollars on 2020 Kentucky Senate candidate Amy McGrath, who was running against then–Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. McGrath raised $94 million for her campaign, more than all but three other Senate candidates of either party—excluding those in Georgia whose races went to a runoff—and then lost to McConnell by 19.6 points. Bad! In South Carolina, meanwhile, Jaime Harrison raised a record $131 million for his challenge to Sen. Lindsey Graham, and lost by 10 points.*
In fairness to those who donated to Harrison, there were a number of polls that showed him having at least a chance at winning. No such polls existed in McGrath’s race. The digital fundraising machine, though, basically runs itself: If a sufficiently charismatic candidate claims they can deliver comeuppance to a high-profile Republican villain who attracts Democratic “donor attention,” money will flow to their campaign. The biggest villain of all is Trump, whose anti-appeal is so potent you don’t even have to be running for office to raise money off him. Take Seth Abramson, a guy who asks for (and gets! I guess—it’s wild) donations to tweet other people’s articles about the ex-president, or the legendary Krassenstein brothers, who, if I have this straight, tried to turn Robert Mueller into Bitcoin. (There was also Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, who raised $7 million for a “recount” campaign in 2016 that, as you may have noticed, did not end up overturning the result of the election.)
In other words, the continuum of wasteful #resistance fundraising runs from the arguably well intentioned to the, let’s say, fishy. And there are signs that what’s happening right now in notorious conspiracy theorist Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s district is closer to the latter end of the spectrum. As journalist Stephen Fowler and election researcher Rob Pyers point out, the Democrats competing to run against Greene—particularly a cowboy-hat-wearing gentleman named Marcus Flowers who has a nose for publicity—are raising a awful lot of money:
The catch here that both allude to is that Greene’s district, Georgia’s 14th, is super-super-Republican: She won it in 2020 by a 75–25 margin over a Democrat who’d effectively dropped out of the doomed race because of personal problems. That was also the approximate margin by which Donald Trump won the district in both of the last two elections. A Democrat is never, ever, ever going to beat Greene in 2022—and if reporting in the New Republic is any indication, that Democrat is definitely not going to be Flowers, a political unknown who has been evasive about his past work as military contractor (one of the few things we know is that he was paid by the government for “translation services performed in Romania”) and extremely tumultuous divorce from a Russian woman he met in Afghanistan. (One of the things he admits to in court documents, according to TNR, is trying to get her out of the home where they lived by dropping her at a homeless shelter.)
Flowers’ 0.00 percent chance of winning his race isn’t mentioned on his pages for the well-known ActBlue or VoteVets donor platforms, nor is it mentioned in the online advertising that Democratic firms like Run the World Digital have been paid to do on his behalf. (I’ve asked Run the World if it has any comment on its work with Howard and will update this post if it responds.) Luckily for them, many of the Democratic party’s resistance donors don’t stop and ask the obvious questions, such as who a candidate is and whether they might win their election, before sending off their money.
Correction, Oct. 20, 2021: This piece originally misspelled Jaime Harrison’s first name.