WashPost Reporter Slammed for Challenging Sanders' $27 Donation Claim

April 19th, 2016 6:28 PM

For several months, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has claimed that he has not taken money from Wall Street firms or superPACs. Instead, the Vermont senator has stated he has received millions of donations that average $27 each, which was considered a testament to his grassroots support.

However, Washington Post reporter Philip Bump challenged that figure on Monday as being closer to $29 apiece, a claim that resulted in a deluge of criticism from angry Sanders supporters who considered the article “a pointless and petty hit job.”

According to an article posted Tuesday on the Mediaite website by Alex Griswold, Bump was interested in whether or not that $27 claim was actually true, and he calculated “that the real number was probably a little higher.” After his article was posted, “Bump faced a deluge of criticism on social media, … with one troll even posting his home address on Twitter,” Griswold stated.

“The actual body of the piece was fairly neutral, not accusing Sanders of any sort of falsehood,” the Mediaite reporter noted. “But the provocative headline -- ”Bernie Sanders keeps saying his average donation is $27, but his own numbers contradict that” -- led to the Democratic candidate's supporters to quickly letting Bump know how they felt.

Bump stated on Tuesday:

By the end of the day, I’d received thousands of negative tweets, negative comments on Facebook, and any number of emails. Someone called my editor to complain. Someone else posted my home address on Twitter.

Neither I nor anyone else writing critically about Sanders deserves the sort of response that has been received. No, Twitter isn’t life. But irrational fury that leads to abusive behavior isn’t the sort of thing that should be ignored.

What did Bump say to elicit such a hostile response?

“By the time Larry David appeared on Saturday Night Live to spoof Bernie Sanders in early February, his talking point about his campaign's average donation being $27 was already well known enough to be a punchline,” he noted.

“That was two-and-a-half months -- and a whole lot of individual contributions -- ago. And yet, Sanders still regularly mentions the same stat: His average donation is $27,” Bump stated. “Which prompts a natural question: How? How is it that the average has stayed so consistent over time?”

The reporter then gave readers “a quick math lesson: You calculate an average by taking a group of numbers, adding them up, and dividing by how many numbers you had.”

“As the number of items tossed into the average grows, the average itself changes more slowly,” he continued. “Sanders' campaign has received north of 6 million individual donations. So any one donation is only 0.00002 percent of the total -- and therefore has a much smaller effect.”

The average “has dropped over time, thanks to the surge in small donors the campaign has seen,” Bump noted. “(Again, the average here isn't $27 because smaller contributions aren't itemized, so we can't crunch those numbers.)”

The reporter added:

What's more, the $27 average has become a symbolic rallying cry for the campaign -- a demonstration of his reliance on small donors.

That's reflected in the FEC reports, too. The number of reported $27 donations grew quickly in February.

“Which suggests that giving $27 is a point of pride for Sanders donors,” Bump noted.

In addition, the campaign website encourages that number in its suggested contribution levels. “It's a nice number for the campaign, bite-sized,” Bump indicated. “If you were going to give the guy $15, as suggested, bumping it up to $27 isn't really that big a difference. And what's more, it's the sort of thing you can do again the next time you have an urge to give.”

“But the real answer to the question is this: At its heart, the idea is just a talking point.” After all, “$137 million divided by 4.7 million is ... $29.14.”

“As more donations come in, the average will still be in the same ballpark,” he continued. “The campaign encourages those $27 donations, and his fans are eager to oblige.”

“But is the average $27 every day?” Bump asked. “Not according to data from the campaign.”

In an interesting twist, Mike Casca, rapid response director for the Sanders campaign, responded to Bump's article by tweeting that the average donation is “$27 and some change, but thanks for playing.” This incident proves that there is anger in the Democratic Party as well as the GOP. Hopefully, cooler heads will prevail as the political process winds its way to the November election.