Carl Wurtz, a web developer from Southern California, contributed $7,213 during the primary. “To tell you the truth, I was not keeping track,” he said. “That’s why I kept giving. I really didn’t realize I had given as much as I had. I thought it would probably tell me I’m over the $2,700, but they didn’t stop me.”
As I wrote in May, the fact that Sanders had so many excess donations is in part due to a compliance system that was designed with more professional, big-money campaigns in mind. Experienced fund-raisers and donors “max out” by writing one or two large checks for $2,700 for the primary and general elections, and those big donations are easy for campaigns to track and report. But when the average donation is just $27 and the campaigns try to hit up their supporters again and again, the process for reporting it all becomes much more complicated.
The FEC requires that campaigns send refunds for any donation in excess of the legal limit within 60 days, and according to its federal filings, the Sanders campaign has issued more than $5 million in refunds. But several of the largest “over donors” to Sanders said they never received checks the campaign reported that it sent to them late in the spring, in some cases for several thousand dollars. “Are you kidding me? I barely even received a thank you from the campaign,” said Annamarie Weaver of Chicago when I informed her that, according to records on the FEC website, the Sanders campaign had issued her a refund of $3,617 on May 1 and another one for $500 on May 31. “That’s complete bullshit.”
“I did not expect to receive a check, and I have not received a check,” Weaver said.
(After the publication of this article, Bryant called to say that she received a check for $10,000 on Monday, several days after I forwarded names of donors who said they had not received refunds from the Sanders campaign.)
Donors like Grace, Weaver, and Wurtz gave repeatedly, even compulsively, to the Sanders campaign because they believed in him and because they could. While they said they wouldn’t turn down refunds that are owed to them, the only regrets they offered about their many contributions were that their candidate didn’t win. “I’m glad I donated that much and I would do it again,” Wurtz said. “And I’m upset that Hillary rigged the Democratic primary, because I think all the people that contributed to Bernie were ripped off.”
But at least one “over donor” had second thoughts about giving so often, and so much, to Sanders. After reading my earlier report on the overeager Sanders supporters, she emailed me to say that despite trying to contact the campaign multiple times, she hadn’t received any of the thousands of dollars the campaign owed her in refunds after she made more than 70 separate contributions totaling more than $5,000. She said she never received more than an automated response, and that she never got the refunds that the campaign reported sending her.