Delegates saddled with thousands of dollars in expenses — from pricey hotels to time off work — to attend the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia have now turned to crowdfunding sites to help pay their way.
The estimated per-person cost for the four-day convention between 25-28 July ranges from $3,000 to $8,000, according to delegates pledged to the Democratic Party's two remaining candidates.
Andrew Niquette, a Bernie Sanders delegate from Georgia and 19-year-old chef, said he received a price estimate from the state Democratic Party of around $8,000, including hotel prices of $1,000 a night.
"When we ran for delegate positions we knew it was going to be a little pricey, but none of us knew how expensive it is," said Niquette, who has set a fundraising goal of $3,600 on GoFundMe, a crowdfunding site. "I am trying to self-fund the rest of the money I need by working 70 hour weeks."
Niquette said that since the daily schedule starts at around 7:00am every morning and delegates must go through time-consuming Secret Service security checks, most are forced to stay in hotels the Democratic National Committee (DNC) has designated. The DNC has blocked out rooms in approximately 26 hotels in Philadelphia for the week of the national convention, and depending on the size of the delegation, there are between one and three state delegations staying at each hotel. Most of the hotels have hiked up room prices for the week. For example, at the Lowes Philadelphia Hotel, where the New York delegation is housed, the nightly block rate for DNC-held rooms is $449 a night. Ordinarily on a non-convention weeknight, rooms can cost $229.
"We have to stay at our hotels because they serve as our headquarters," Niquette said. "They make it very, very insanely difficult to go to a cheaper hotel."
Matt Hughes, a Hillary Clinton delegate from North Carolina, said that fundraising is particularly important for younger delegates who often don't have as much disposable income.
"Politics is expensive to participate in, unless you want to be a volunteer," said Hughes, 25, who also currently serves as the chair of the Orange County Democratic Party. "I do feel like folks need a little skin in the game, but I also think it needs to become more affordable. That's perhaps why we elect alternates, in case people can't go."
Hundreds of Sanders and Clinton delegates, many of whom have never been involved in the political process in any official or paid capacity outside of volunteering, have already set up fundraising profiles online, peppered with photos from the campaign trail and selfies taken with their chosen candidate.
While there are no federal laws stopping state parties from contributing to their delegates' expenses, the sheer cost of helping 251 Texas delegates or 117 from Georgia, for example, attend the convention is beyond most of their budget capabilities. Superdelegates — elected officials and state party members — going to the convention are allowed to use candidate funds to finance their trips. The Federal Election Commission has also said presidential candidates can help delegates pay for travel and hotel costs.
Elected officials are also allowed to donate personally to delegates, including on crowdsourcing sites. Last month, Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard — who quit her post as DNC vice chair to endorse Sanders in February — donated $100 to Sanders New York delegate Moumita Ahmed's GoFundMe campaign. So far, Ahmed has raised just over half of her $2,000 goal.
In recent years, a number of fundraising sites have cropped up online, which has helped facilitate political participation in a way that was not possible two election-cycles ago when Barack Obama beat Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primary. Hughes said that fundraising on GoFundMe, which launched in 2010, is more popular now than it was even during the last election. Unlike other fundraising sites like Kickstarter or IndieGogo, which fundraise to help propel a specific invention, idea, or artistic project off the ground, GoFundMe allows delegates to raise money for any personal cause. Dozens of Republican delegates are also using the site to help them get to Cleveland for the GOP convention in July.
Other sites like Crowdrise also have fewer fundraising restrictions, but less visibility with delegates. There are currently only five profiles on Crowdrise to help send people to the Democratic convention, including one for a group of demonstrators from Tampa Bay, Florida.
Kimberly Tregoning, a Sanders delegate from Kalamazoo Michigan and mother of three, said she felt uneasy about fundraising online, especially given that many of her fellow supporters in her area had lower-level incomes and were giving small donations to the Sanders campaign.
"You feel terrible for putting [up] a GoFundMe. I don't want to ask people to put up more money on top of their other donations," she said. "But I'm a caregiver, I don't make a lot of money. It's disheartening as an American to realize that politics is all about money."
Tregoning received estimates of about $4,000, including $300 a night for her hotel, to attend the convention.
Likewise, Jessa Lewis, a Sanders delegate and single mother from Washington State, said that her estimate of $5,000 to attend the convention was steep considering there were times she lived on food stamps and in a car with her daughter. But for Lewis, the importance of getting involved in the political process outweighed her doubts about fundraising.
"We're being sent to develop a platform," she said. "Just like politicians fundraise, we delegates are fundraising and the amount of support we're getting from the community and family and friends is astonishing."
All of the delegates VICE News spoke to were lucky enough to be selected early at district-level conventions, giving them at least two months to fundraise and book travel early. Those chosen at state-level conventions have less time to organize their trips.
"There are still delegates that aren't going to be selected for another two weeks and they will be the ones that are hit with airfares and travel costs," Lewis said.
Many of the delegates said that overall, the expense of attending the convention was prohibitive to most people. Sanders supporters felt especially strongly that the high cost of attendance represents yet another impediment to voter participation erected by the political establishment.
"It does set some barriers for a lot of people," said Ayla Kadah, 21, a Washington state delegate and dual US-Syrian citizen who was raised in Damascus. "I think that they could it make it easier. They could let down some of the barriers and that's with a lot of different aspects of the system."
Follow Liz Fields on Twitter: @lianzifields