The role of delegates to the Democratic and Republican National Conventions has become a hot topic of conversation throughout the increasingly dramatic presidential contests. But amid all the debate over the system of selecting the nominees, we sometimes forget to ask one basic question — who are the delegates? Mostly, regular people like Alicia Tucker, 34. Tucker, a delegate from Nevada supporting Hillary Clinton, doesn't quite fit the stereotype of the establishment proxy. She is a nursing student, a member of the LGBT community, and a caregiver for her grandmother, who suffers from Alzheimer's. She told Refinery29 by phone that she decided to run to be a delegate after almost a year of campaigning for Hillary Clinton. “After all the work that I put in for this campaign and towards this process, it was the right thing to do," she said. The right thing to do, but maybe not an easy one. Though delegates are technically elected officials, they aren’t paid for their efforts on behalf of their political party. No matter where a delegate is coming from, the airfare, accommodations, and other costs of attending a convention will likely set them back thousands of dollars. Tucker, a full-time student, had to come up with $5,000. It's money she doesn't have. So, what's a delegate to do in the era of the social media election? Turn to crowdfunding. Many delegates with the devotion, but not necessarily the dollars, are relying on the internet and fellow supports of their candidate to help them fund their way to cast their vote at the national conventions in Cleveland and Philadelphia this July. Tucker is one of the many who have turned to platforms like GoFundMe or asked for contributions.
It’s a hefty cost to go and serve your country.
As a California delegate for Bernie Sanders, Eden McFadden, 34, is following her own candidate’s lead in small-donation fundraising. “Bernie has broken fundraising records during his campaign by asking for small donations. If all Bernie Supporters could contribute $3 and share this fundraiser, my trip would be funded in no time!” she wrote on her GoFundMe page. As of June 9, she had raised about $650. McFadden's out-of-pocket expense is expected to be between $3,600 and $4,100 — much more than she can afford as a freelance event planner. “It’s a hefty cost to go and serve your country,” she told Refinery29 by phone. That hefty cost comes mainly from the price tag of the hotel stay, which is organized through the convention itself and can run up to hundreds of dollars per night. Tucker's lodging costs were quoted to her by her state Democratic party as $500 per night for a five-night stay, and McFadden's at $769, a price McFadden considers exorbitant. “The price is a deterrent on purpose,” she said. “I just feel like if the Democratic party really wants this to function properly the way it’s supposed to, why would the prices be just so high?" However, she pointed out the ways that delegates' hands can be tied when it comes to options for finding cheaper lodging. "You want to be there to participate in these conversations," she said, noting that the hotels were hubs for meetings and scheduled transportation. Not being present means missed chances to network with other delegates or trade information. "You could find a place outside of town, like an Airbnb 20 miles out of town for cheaper, but you have to be there, you have to be involved in these conversations or else there's no point," she said. In an emailed statement to Refinery29, a representative for the Democratic National Convention said that the party understands and appreciates the delegates' commitment to attending. "It is important to us that our Convention be reflective of the breadth of the party and our process encourages state parties to give delegates information and tools to help to put together the resources to participate," the statement said. "Over the last three cycles in particular, the internet has lowered the bar for participation by making it easier for potential delegates to get their message out and to leverage tools for crowdfunding to help them perform this vital role." A request for comment from organizers of the Republican National Convention was not returned.
Though McFadden and Tucker's costs are at the higher end of the spectrum, they're not unusual. Courtney Mattison, 26, expects the cost of her attending the Republican National Convention in Cleveland to come in at just about half of McFadden’s, at around $2,000. The Virginian, who says that she supported various candidates through the election cycle, but will stand behind the presumptive nominee, turned to GoFundMe at the suggestion of friends. She's hoping to offset the cost with donations so that she doesn't deplete her own finances, though she doesn't expect to raise the whole amount. “I’m saving for the trip and working to earn extra money ahead of the convention,” she said by email. Even delegates who are prepared for the expense can get blindsided. Both Mattison and McFadden said that they had been confused in varying degrees as to how much the convention would cost. McFadden said that she had assumed the party would contribute to the costs, while Mattison said that she knew the costs “to an extent,” but hadn’t been aware of certain fees. Tucker, however, had the opposite experience. “You’re not really in the dark,” she said about cost planning. Tucker said her state party sent emails about the cost and required potential delegates to go through paperwork multiple times. “You are aware that it is pretty pricy," she said. As of June 3, she’s raised $645 with her GoFundMe, but she’s not relying on charity alone. “I already have ideas of doing raffles, mixers, things like that,” Tucker said. “I’ve never fundraised personally before, so it’s a challenge. The good thing is I have a plethora of people who are willing to help me.” That plethora of people is what’s making it possible for these women to attend their respective conventions. In an increasingly passionate election season, people are banding together to help their ideological comrades. Tucker had her round-trip flight funded by donations of airline miles and Philadelphia Sanders supporters are opening their homes to delegates in need of lodging with BernieBNB.
With such outrageous costs, it begs the question — why are these women willing to uproot their lives and decimate their finances to make it to a convention? For all three, it would have been unthinkable not to go. “I’m completely invested in this, I’ve gone through so many things,” Tucker said. “I’m far too invested to not go.” McFadden agreed, saying that she would do whatever it took to get there. “I don’t want to sleep in a sleeping bag on the floor, but I will if I have to,” she said, adding that she had never felt anything in her life was as important as the Sanders campaign. Mattison summed up her willingness to sacrifice this way: “Politics 101: Show up.”