A Look at Contributions From Puerto Rico to Presidential Candidates

Dec 4, 2019
2:38 PM

According to FEC data from January 1, 2019 to September 30, 2019, Bernie Sanders has the highest number of campaign donations from Puerto Rico. (Photo by Francisco Lozano/Latino Rebels)

A couple of days ago, I decided to look up how much the residents of Puerto Rico had donated to presidential candidates. Maybe it was last month’s Democratic debate —that once again featured zero questions about Puerto Rico— or that we are in the middle of “giving season.” I quickly went down the rabbit hole and spent a couple of hours looking at the data.

But why even look at political donations from Puerto Rico? When political parties and analysts want to determine a candidate’s electability, two of the central factors they look at are polling numbers and the ability to raise funds. There is a lack of publicly available polling that can tell us the level of support that each presidential candidate has on the island. Still, we can always follow the money trail.

The Federal Election Commission (FEC) requires that every federal campaign divulge the name, address, employer, and occupation of every donor—as well as the amount of money they donated. While not a predictor of who would have the most support in a primary, the FEC data can help us see things differently.

However, before we dive in, it is essential to note that the residents of Puerto Rico cannot vote for President in the general election. They can vote in the primaries of each party but cannot participate in the general. This has created a vicious cycle that makes people living in Puerto Rico feel disconnected from presidential campaigns.

And why would they feel connected to them when those same candidates pay less attention to the island than every other state in the country? It is happening this election cycle even though the Democratic presidential candidates could use the 64 delegates that Puerto Rico will send to the convention. That is more delegates than 24 other states.

The tragedy of this all is that Puerto Rico’s colonial status leaves the island more vulnerable to the whims of the President than any other U.S. jurisdiction. The last three years have proven so. Yet for some reason, no presidential candidate has understood how powerful that can be for their campaign. They have failed to reach out and solidify the support of the Puerto Rican community—both on the island and the mainland. And people still ask why Puerto Ricans have not warmed up to the idea of donating to presidential campaigns. I really can’t blame us.

I should also mention that until Puerto Rico (if ever) gets to vote for the presidency and/or money is separated from politics, we as a community have to be willing to “play ball.” Even making small-dollar contributions might get the ball rolling, or at least that’s what they all keep saying.

In this article, I will only focus on donations made to presidential candidates—including President Trump. The data was pulled from the FEC database and covers donations made from January 1, 2019, to September 30, 2019. (It includes data on candidates who are no longer running.) The information for donations made in the fourth quarter should be made public by mid-February. While having access to clean real-time donation data would be amazing, the data from the first three quarters has some interesting tidbits.

Here is what I found:

  • Puerto Ricans donated a total of $93,925 to 12 presidential candidates in the first nine months of the year. According to the data, 138 individual donors made a total of 802 donations during that period, with contributions averaging $117.
  • That’s right. Only 11 Democratic nominees have received donations from Puerto Rico. Noteworthy omissions? Sen. Gillibrand (no longer a candidate), Sen. Klobuchar (who visited the island in May), and Governors Steve Bullock (no longer a candidate) and Jay Inslee (no longer a candidate).

  • Of the almost $94,000 donated to presidential candidates, 63.9% of the donations ($60,018) originated from San Juan, Puerto Rico. In addition, 82% of the total funds contributed originated from San Juan, Toa Alta, Guaynabo, and Dorado—all of them located in the northern part of the island. Coming in fifth place? Ponce.

  • President Trump raised $19,663 in the first three quarters, while the Democratic candidates raised $74,273. However, if we also count the $17,800 raised by the Trump Victory Fund, the total raised by Trump on the island increases to $37,463.

  • With $19,600 raised for the 2020 election, President Trump has already surpassed the $15,175 his campaign raised in Puerto Rico for the entire 2016 cycle. David Tirri, Elías Sánchez, and John Regis donated the maximum amojunt to both Trump for America and the Trump Victory Fund.
  • In comparison, President Obama raised $176,764 in Puerto Rico during the first three quarters of 2011 for his 2012 re-election campaign. Trump’s donation amount is also less than the $59,000 that President Bush raised on the island in 2003, and the $32,250 that Bill Clinton raised in 1995.

  • While the numbers above might look favorably for some of the Democratic candidates, a closer look shows why fundraising totals can be deceiving. For example, Cory Booker and Kamala Harris (no longer a candidate) have higher fundraising totals than Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden, but in reality, they have been raising less money each quarter. Julián Castro, Maryanne Williamson, and Pete Buttigieg are three other candidates whose fundraising in Puerto Rico has gone down.
  • But how bad is it? It’s bad… Booker raised $10,900 the first quarter and hasn’t raised more than $500 since. Kamala Harris went from $8,300 in Q1, to $2,400 in Q2 and only $385 in Q3. As for Castro? He had one donor who donated the maximum amount to both the general and primary election accounts of Castro.

  • The clear winners for the Democrats are Bernie Sanders, Warren, and Biden, who each raised $4,000 more than they had the previous quarter. Andrew Yang (+$1,241) and Tulsi Gabbard (+$1,225) are the two other candidates who continue to grow their fundraising in the island.

  • It definitely looks like Sanders has continued to grow his network on the island—one that, thanks to Our Revolution PR, never really went way after 2016. While Sanders’ average contribution per donation is the lowest of all candidates at $27.35, he far outpaces all candidates in number of donations at 498. Nobody else is even close.


Frederick Vélez III Burgos is a former Congressional staff member and has worked in the last three election cycles to get out the vote in the Latino community. Born and raised in Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico, he now lives in Miami, FL. You can follow him on Twitter at @frederickviii.