George Clooney says he hates raising money for politics.
But after hosting two big-ticket fundraisers with his wife, Amal, that reportedly raised $15 million in support of Hillary Clinton this weekend, Clooney is defending that haul by drawing attention to a big difference in how the former secretary of state and her rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, are bringing in cash.
That difference is not where the money is coming from, though Sanders likes to point out that his financial support comes largely through online contributions with an average of $27, while Clinton is frequently attending swanky parties with wealthy backers from places like Hollywood and Silicon Valley.
The Sanders campaign even put that message in an ad that ran in California this weekend, while Clinton was there raising money.
What Clooney pointed to is that Clinton has been bringing in millions of dollars, not just for her campaign, but also for Democrats running in House, Senate and other local races.
"It's going to the congressmen and senators to try to take back Congress," Clooney said on NBC's Meet the Press on Sunday. "And the reason that's important, and the reason it's important to me, is because we need — I'm a Democrat. So if you're a Republican, you're going to disagree, but we need to take the Senate back."
He argued that would lead to a Supreme Court justice who could overturn the 2010 Citizens United decision that gave rise to superPACs, which Clooney said would help eliminate the need for such fundraisers that he agreed were odious.
Spreading The Wealth
As the Democratic primary fight drags on, both Sanders and Clinton have continued raising lots of money.
Last month, Sanders brought in $44 million, powered by contributions from small donors.
Clinton raised significantly less in March — $29.5 million — and her campaign said more than half of that money "came in online from the grassroots donations," though the Clinton campaign did not specify in its announcement what the average donation amounted to.
Her campaign did point out that Clinton raised $6.1 million for the Democratic National Committee and state Democratic parties in March, for a total of $15 million in the first quarter of 2016.
Clinton's apparatus to raise this money is the Hillary Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee made up of her campaign, the Democratic National Committee and Democratic committees in dozens of states. A single donor can give $700,000 to the Hillary Victory Fund.
The joint committee has raised nearly $27 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. While that money is distributed through all levels of the party, the Clinton campaign ultimately decides where it goes.
Sanders has a similar agreement, but the Bernie Victory Fund is practically inactive. The DNC put $1,000 into the fund when it was established in December, but nothing else has been raised, according to records from the Federal Election Commission.
Building Party Strength
Why is Clinton raising so much money for people running in state and local races?
In addition to Republican majorities in the U.S. House and Senate, the GOP also dominates governors' offices — 31 out of 50 — and Republicans hold complete control over state legislatures in 30 states.
As NPR has reported previously, Democrats hold fewer elected offices nationwide than at any time since the 1920s.
If Clinton gets elected, like any candidate, she wants more allies in Congress and in the states. Raising money for down-ballot candidates and party committees also helps ensure goodwill with party insiders — many of who are DNC superdelegates backing Clinton by big margins.
The Sanders campaign sent out an email solicitation for three Democrats running for the House, who line up with his political views. His campaign has also noted that he has raised money for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Sanders, who represents Vermont as an independent, caucuses with Democrats in the Senate.
Some of the top economic priorities for Clinton and Sanders, including raising the minimum wage and providing paid family leave, are long shots at the federal level, because Republicans have a firm hold on the House even if the Senate is in play this year. (Although Democrats argue that with Donald Trump on the ballot, they could have a chance at picking up the House.)
Some states and cities have taken up measures on those issues, with states like New York and California recently passing laws to raise the minimum wage to $15.
Those laws were signed by two of the 18 Democratic governors currently holding office.
Pragmatism And Idealism
Clinton told ABC's This Week on Sunday what her ultimate goal is. "I want to bring along a lot of Democrats, because I want to protect and further the progressive agenda that President Obama has worked for and that I believe in," she said.
Sanders was asked to respond and acknowledged that he has not been raising much money for Democrats in the 2016 campaign. "But in the past we have, and raised millions of dollars for Democratic candidates," he added.
His campaign is also predicated on a revolution that he hopes will transform American politics.
For starters, Sanders called on the Democratic Party to put "an emphasis on getting more working people, young people, in the political process, dependent on small campaign contributions, not big money the way Secretary Clinton is raising it."
These arguments follow the lines of debate between the two candidates throughout this campaign for the Democratic nomination. Clinton defends doing what she thinks is best within the existing system. Sanders believes the only way is to completely change it.