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Processing fees and campaigns: How much are Americans spending?

How much of your donation is getting to your candidate?

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woman making a donation on her laptop with an american flag in the background

Whether you’re paying for a loaf of bread at the store or donating to a political campaign using your credit card, there is a fee associated with that transaction and those fees are big business.

What are the fees charged when you use your credit card to donate to a political campaign?

Every time you make a donation to a political candidate, there’s a cost associated with that transaction but how much you’ll pay depends on the fundraising platform. For example, the not for profit ActBlue, which facilitates donations for left leaning organizations levies a processing fee of 3.95% on donations. On the other side of the aisle is WinRed, which has a 3.8% processing fee along with a $0.30 charge for every transaction.

Who pays the fees?

As with the amount you’re going to pay in fees, who pays the fee also differs between different donation platforms. For example, some funding platforms like Crowdpac get the donor to pay the credit card fee, while others such as ActBlue charge the campaigns a processing fee on donations.

How much are Americans spending on payment processing fees?

To get an idea of just how much US adults are getting slugged in processing fees, Finder looked at publicly released Federal Election Commission (FEC) disbursement data to analyze how much political committees spent on payment processing fees.

Since 2017, political committees have spent more than $212 million on processing fees for donations, with $57 million being spent in roughly the first half of 2020. And if history is anything to go by, a spike in donations is just around the corner with donations typically peaking in the month of October.

Donations typically rise around presidential campaigns, with 2019–July 2020 seeing the highest amount spent on processing fees at $120.5 million so far, followed by 2015–2016 with $103.6 million spent on processing fees by political committees.

Amount spent on processing fees by political committees

YearAmount spent by political committeesTotal amount raised
2009–2010$33,067,432$4,032,772,117
2011–2012$79,164,972$7,673,075,652
2013–2014$43,609,063$4,865,564,861
2015–2016$103,623,022$9,404,023,174
2017–2018$91,911,156$8,759,790,604
2019–2020$120,488,585$11,325,191,343

Which companies are getting paid the most from political processing fees?

Taking in almost $98 million from processing fees between 2017 to July 2020, ActBlue is in the top spot. In fact, that’s 55% more than the rest of the top 10 funding platforms combined.

Amount spent on processing fees by political committees

RankProduct2017–2020
1ACTBLUE$97,718,003
2WINRED$19,059,070
3STRIPE$14,268,395
4ANEDOT$12,025,279
5FIRST DATA MERCHANT SERVICES$4,901,681
6CAMPAIGN SOLUTIONS$3,000,679
7PARAGON SOLUTIONS$2,732,531
8REVV LLC$2,664,513
9AMERICAN EXPRESS$2,219,996
10DEMOCRACY ENGINE, LLC$2,105,658

Celebrity donors: which party benefits the most?

If you’ve watched the news at all, you know the answer to this question: The Democratic Party. To get this answer, we looked at 12,508 presidential committee contributions made by 1,684 different individuals from 2017 to July 2020, based on donor occupations.

The candidate who received the most donations during this time is Joe Biden, taking in $230,667 from celebrity donations, which accounts for almost 20% of all contributions made by entertainers. Narrowly behind Biden is Sanders, with $224,530 or 19% of celebrity donations. Pete Buttigieg rounds out the top three at $182,242 (16%).

It’s not all blue dollars though, with the incumbent President Trump, receiving $84,771 or 7% of celebrity contributions.

Presidential committeeAmount contributed
Joe Biden$230,667
Pete Buttigieg$182,242
Kamala Harris$43,335
Marianne Williamson$22,183
Kirsten Gillibrand$22,076
Jay Inslee$14,742
Michael Bennet$5,720
Bill de Blasio$5,600
John Hickenlooper$4,300
Jo Jorgensen$1,570
Ben Gleib$500
Joe Walsh$130
David Rolde$11

Methodology

Finder looked at publicly released Federal Election Commission (FEC) operating expenditure disbursement data from 2009 to 2020 to analyze political committees’ spending. We filtered for disbursements with descriptions including the terms:

  • “transaction fee”
  • “fundraising fee”
  • “donation platform fee”
  • “merchant fee”
  • “service fee”
  • “credit card fee”
  • “processing fee”

“Celebrity” industry contribution data was based on the individual contribution data updated by the FEC. We looked at individuals that identified their occupations as “actor”, “actress”, “entertainer”, “singer”, or “entertainer” who contributed from January 2017 to July 2020. We looked only at donations to authorized Presidential committees, which have a contribution limit of $2,800 per individual for each candidate committee per election.

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Allan Givens
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Nicole Gallina
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