Elections

Going to Philly for the convention? Delegates turn to the crowd for help

The Washington state delegation, including six delegates from Bellingham, will attend the Democratic National Convention beginning on July 25 in Philadelphia.
The Washington state delegation, including six delegates from Bellingham, will attend the Democratic National Convention beginning on July 25 in Philadelphia. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

Dallas Roberts needed some help paying for his trip to Philadelphia later this month. The Western Washington University alum was selected to be a delegate at the Democratic National Convention, so he decided to turn to GoFundMe – a popular crowd-funding site.

“The GoFundMe is purely to cover the expenses of the flight to the east coast, staying in the delegate hotel,” said Roberts, 23, of Bellingham. “Maybe a few Philly cheesesteaks here or there.” A trip to the convention could easily cost a delegate – most of whom are not wealthy – between $2,000 and $3,000.

When the DNC kicks off on Monday, July 25, many delegations will stay in hotels assigned to them by the DNC Committee headquarters. Philadelphia hotel prices can be inflated during the week of the convention, so some delegates decided to save money by using AirBnB or by staying in hostels.

It’s really cool how the community has pulled together to help everyone.

Barbara Lewis, delegate and English instructor at Northwest Indian College

Roberts and five other delegates from Bellingham will attend the Democratic convention July 25-28. The other five are Tatum Kenn, Nickolaus Lewis, Barbara Lewis, Richard May and Victoria Savage.

The Sheraton at Society Hill was recommended for Washington state delegates. Rooms there cost around $330 per night, according to May, 49, a planning commissioner in Blaine. Multiply that by the five nights, plus taxes, and Washington delegates face hotel costs that could easily top $1,800. May said his flight to Philadelphia cost him about $500.

Roberts, who works as a field organizer for Denny Heck for Congress, wasn’t the only delegate who looked to crowd-funding websites for help. Barbara Lewis, 24, has raised more than $1,200 from her GoFundMe page through donations of $5 to $100. That money, she said, will cover her flight and part of her hotel stay.

“It’s really cool how the community has pulled together to help everyone,” said Lewis, an English instructor at Northwest Indian College.

If we can’t get the delegates funded, it puts our progressiveness at a standstill.

Rachael Farrington, created Adopt a Bernie Delegate database of Sanders delegates

The struggle to meet such expenses inspired Rachael Farrington, 42, who lives just outside Philadelphia, to launch Adopt a Bernie Delegate, a national database of delegates who pledged their votes to Sen. Bernie Sanders. Since all six of Bellingham’s local delegates are pledged to Sanders, each of their names can be found on the website under the Washington state delegation.

Three weeks ago, Farrington and her sister cofounded the website, which links to delegates’ GoFundMe pages and encourages donations of $27 per person – that’s 1 percent of the legal limit to contribute to a presidential candidate each year, $2,700. Within the first 24 hours after the site’s launch, it had more than 16,000 hits, Farrington said.

“If we can’t get the delegates funded, it puts our progressiveness at a standstill,” she said.

The delegates’ GoFundMe pages typically ask for about $4,000 to $5,000 in donations – an amount that May, who was also a delegate to the 2004 and 2008 Democratic National conventions, called a “gross overestimate.”

From personal experience, May said there are plenty of ways to be frugal at national conventions. He suggests capitalizing on free meals at the convention, splitting a hotel room with another delegate, and taking public transportation instead of cabs or Uber.

“It’s just not that big of a burden,” May said. “I’ve got my expenses covered.”

At past conventions, May said he spent closer to $2,500 to $3,000.

Roberts said he agrees the $4,000 he requested on his GoFundMe page might be an overestimate – in fact, he expects to spend closer to May’s estimate. He plans to donate any extra funds to other delegates who need the money.

Michaela Winberg is a journalist and a student at Temple University in Philadelphia. This month, she will be reporting on the Democratic National Convention from Philadelphia as part of a groundbreaking project allowing students to cover the event for local newspapers, TV stations and digital outlets. Follow her on Twitter: @mwinberg.

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