As the two top Democratic presidential candidates reap the rewards of their lauded performances at the party's first debate Tuesday, their recently disclosed campaign fundraising totals test credibility of their stated stances — especially when it comes to Big Pharma.
The third-quarter fundraising yields of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, which amounted to $28 million and $26 million respectively, dwarfed those of their lesser-known Democratic rivals — along with every single GOP presidential hopeful.
The two Democratic frontrunners have also been the recipients of sustained media coverage that has eluded Martin O'Malley, who received $1.3 million in the past three months; Lawrence Lessig, who didn't appear at the debate Tuesday but managed to snag more than $1 million; Jim Webb, who raised $697,000; and Lincoln Chafee, who managed to raise just $15,000 — more than $4,000 of which was his own money.
The Republican candidate who raised the most money in the third quarter was Ben Carson, with $20.8 million.
Though Clinton and Sanders received similar amounts, the sources of their contributions differ. Sanders' campaign boasted in September that it benefitted from more than a million small contributions averaging $25 apiece. The filings Thursday revealed that only 270 of about 650,000 donors to the Sanders campaign had given the maximum individual contribution of $2,700.
One recent $2,700 Sanders donor was Martin Shkreli, who was vilified in September after raising the price of a life-saving drug by more than 5,000 percent overnight. Shkreli incurred both the wrath of social media and Clinton, who at the debate Tuesday night counted drug companies among her biggest arch nemeses.
Sanders, who also named Big Pharma as one of his favorite enemies during the debate, rejected Shkreli's donation and the CEO's offer to meet privately. Instead, the campaign said it would be giving the donation from the "poster boy for drug company greed" to a health clinic in Washington. The lost contribution won't make much of a dent in Sanders' war chest; his campaign received more than 97,000 contributions equaling $3.2 million since Tuesday's debate.
Although Clinton staked out an adversarial position with drug companies — she also recently announced a plan to battle "profiteering" pharma companies and rising drug costs — she has been a top recipient of pharma money over the years. Between her first run for US senator in 2000 and the beginning of her 2016 presidential campaign, she accepted close to $1 million in contributions from drug and health companies like Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, and Bristol-Myers Squibb, according to a public records analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington, DC-based non-partisan research group.
The Hillary for America campaign's second-quarter filing from July and its third-quarter filing in October show numerous maximum individual contributions from senior people at Pfizer, including its executive vice president, vice president of government relations, and senior director of international public affairs.
According to the Clinton foundation website, Pfizer and Procter & Gamble, which manufactures and distributes more than 79 drugs in the US, were also among companies that contributed between $1 million and $5 million to the foundation. Clinton has fielded about 80 percent of her contributions from nearly 400,000 donors who have given more than $200 each.
As of Friday, Clinton's campaign had not revealed how much the candidate had raised since the first Democratic debate and declined to comment on whether the campaign would continue to accept donations from big pharmaceutical companies in the wake of Clinton's comments Tuesday.
"Hillary Clinton is committed to protecting consumers from drug companies who put profits ahead of people," said campaign spokesman Josh Schwerin. "The nearly 400,000 people who have supported Hillary's campaign know that's what she's fighting for."
Fourth-quarter fundraising totals for the candidates will be released on January 15, two weeks before the Iowa caucuses.
Follow Liz Fields on Twitter: @lianzifields