For the upcoming third round of Democratic presidential debates, the candidates face much a much steeper hill to qualify. This time around, there will only be one night of debates, meaning only a dozen or so will likely make the cut, leaving half the field in the cold. To qualify, candidates need at least 2 percent support in four national polls, and a minimum of 130,000 unique donors, including 400 donors across 20 states.
Billionaire activist Tom Steyer hasn’t been in the race long. After the first round of debates in July, California congressman Eric Swalwell announced he was dropping out of the race, and Steyer announced his candidacy the same day. Previously, the San Francisco-based hedge fund manager was best known for pouring money into efforts to impeach Donald Trump—he put about $80 million for the Need to Impeach initiative—but in less than two months, he’s managed to amass a huge number of donors—on Tuesday he announced that he’d managed to secure the necessary 130,000 to qualify for the debate. And he’s broken the 2 percent threshold in three polls. It’s a stunning accomplishment considering other candidates with more name recognition—New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand, for example—have been in the race for months and are still struggling to qualify.
In a tweet thanking his supporters for their donations, “All the money you’ve donated to this campaign so far will go directly into a grassroots organizing fund to support our volunteers.”
Steyer pledged to spend up to $100 million of his own money, and so far his campaign has purchased data on 8 million voters from a group called Need to Impeach and rented data from another group called NextGen America—two organizations that Steyer founded and continues to fund, according to The Atlantic. And in just the last month, according to Vice, he’s spent $2.9 million on Facebook ads alone, more than the next three biggest spenders combined, asking for $1 donations. He’s also put $8.5 million into TV ads in early primary states, meaning he’s spent more than $10 million of his pledged $100 million in just a month.
Why Steyer is so invested, literally, in this presidential bid remains a mystery, and many are questioning if this is the best use of his tremendous resources. As writer Clint Smith tweeted, “Tom Steyer running for president & not using that $100 million dollars to fund a massive voter registration campaign makes absolutely no sense.” But if Howard Schultz’s dead-in-the-water campaign has demonstrated anything, if you’re willing to throw enough money at something, someone’s willing to take it.