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November 20, 2019
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Shoelaces, ice cream and flower power: The weirdest things the 2020 candidates bought

2020 Democratic candidates
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$3,800 for Biden’s favorite dessert

Former Vice President Joe Biden, who famously loves ice cream, spent over $3,800 at Columbus, Ohio, ice cream shop Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream for “donor gifts.” He’s also personally visited the store in 2016, while he was vice president, visiting to talk about federal overtime rules and declaring, “My name is Joe Biden and I love ice cream.”

Biden’s love story with this particular ice cream shop extends to his Instagram account: The ice cream chain and its founder were among his first follows on the social media network.

Yang’s wardrobe malfunction

The Andrew Yang campaign spent $3,100 at Suit Supply and Nordstrom on “attire for campaign events” — an apparent violation of FEC rules forbidding the purchase of clothes for political functions. The Yang campaign told POLITICO that the wrong card was used for those purchases, and the campaign will be reimbursed by the candidate.

Swalwell’s strategic shoelace reserve

The day Rep. Eric Swalwell dropped out of the presidential race, his campaign transferred some of its assets over to his House campaign committee as he prepares to run for reelection in California’s 15th Congressional District. That includes over $7,000 worth of shoelaces branded with the hashtag #Swalwelling, a reference to the congressman’s habit of snapping pictures of his shoes when he boards airplanes heading back to his district from D.C.

Travel like a local

Former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s short-lived campaign spent about $1,000 on one of New York City’s famed yellow taxi companies, NYC Taxi, before de Blaso dropped out. The mayor recently rejected a city-funded bailout for taxi drivers struggling to pay off loans after the industry collapsed in the city, but backed a federal bailout instead.

Elsewhere in local transportation, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s campaign paid $181 to Washington State Ferries for “ferry travel” before he too dropped out of the presidential race.

The field of dreams

Several campaigns made time for sports on the trail. Beto O’Rourke spent a bit over $300 on tickets to the Iowa Cubs, the AAA affiliate of the Chicago Cubs. His campaign also spent money for Iowa Cubs tickets in the second quarter where he (and Biden) appeared at a naturalization ceremony happening on the field.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, meanwhile, who often posted her workout routines on social media during her run, spent $900 for event space at FortCycle in Manchester, N.H., and Momentum Cycling Studio in Los Altos, Calif.

And Sen. Cory Booker’s campaign dropped $250 on tickets to the Upstate HBCU Classic, a South Carolina college football game between historically black schools. (Booker played college football himself, lettering for Stanford in 1989 and 1990.) Local media reported that his campaign — along with the campaigns for Sens. Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren — had tailgates before the game, and that Rep. Tim Ryan attended.

There’s an app for that

Uber reigns supreme in the battle of the rideshare companies. Collectively, the Democratic presidential field spent over $70,000 on Uber (and the occasional UberEats) while spending $66,000 on Lyft. Harris spent the most on rideshares among all the candidates, dropping close to $23,000.

Classic left-wing flower power

One surprising, relatively small line item that popped up across a bunch of different campaigns was flowers. POLITICO found more than $7,000 in combined purchases from florists by Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Tulsi Gabbard, Gillibrand, Tom Steyer, Elizabeth Warren and Marianne Williamson.

The candidate with the sweetest-smelling campaign? That’s probably Buttigieg, who spent close to $3,100 on floral arrangements.

The next Magic Johnson?

Sanders’ campaign paid “DJ Prince Ice” from Columbia, S.C. $350 for event entertainment, after the well-known local DJ performed at the basketball tournament mentioned above.

“I thought [the basketball tournament] was great,” said Allen University student government association president Trevaris Brown, who co-hosted the event. “[Sanders] got a trophy for the winning team … he was really invested in the local community [and] he’s down to earth person … he talked about things that really help the rest of us.”

The fender bender

Campaigns are putting a lot of miles on rental cars in Iowa, New Hampshire and elsewhere as they stump for votes. But one trip a campaign probably wants back? Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper’s campaign paid Enterprise’s “damage recovery unit” $500 for “car rental repair.”

Gabbard’s campaign, meanwhile, decided to buy, paying just under $119,000 to Shafer’s Truck & RV Sales in Delta, Ohio for a vehicle purchase.

And when you’re on the road, sometimes you see hotels more than your own bed. For former Rep. Joe Sestak, that meant one particular hotel. His campaign paid $14,000 to the same Econo Lodge Inn & Suites in Des Moines, Iowa over the course of the quarter.

Some campaigns traveled in style: Biden’s campaign dropped $924,000 on to Advanced Aviation — a private jet charter company — and $44,000 on Biden’s beloved Amtrak.

Buttigieg’s campaign also spent big on charter flights. His campaign spent close to $447,000 to three companies: Advanced Aviation, Vertivue Air Charter and Evojets. Sen. Kamala Harris also got in on the private air travel game. Her campaign spent about $238,000 to charter companies like Air Partner and Zen Air.

Big spenders

Steyer spent $47 million in the quarter, easily the most out of any the Democrats (and it was almost exclusively self-funded). That’s about $261,000 for every minute he was standing on Tuesday night’s debate stage. By far his largest expense was advertising. He spent $15.6 million on disbursements itemized as “media buy” and $14.8 million on “digital advertising.”

No other campaigns are advertising at that intensity on TV yet. After paying his staff, Yang’s second-biggest expense for the quarter was $526,426 the campaign spent on merchandise — presumably including the MATH hats Yang sells on his website.

And, a nice gesture

Buttigieg and O’Rourke have sparred recently through the media and on the debate stage, but they’ve shown solidarity too. Buttigieg’s campaign spent about $400 to send a care package to O’Rourke’s campaign after the mass shooting in El Paso, Texas in early August.

Maggie Severns, Elena Schneider and Scott Bland contributed to this report.



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