Vivek Ramaswamy’s unusual fundraising plan: Supporters get commissions for bringing in donations

(WASHINGTON) — Republican presidential candidate and biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy on Monday launched a commission-based fundraising program called “Vivek Kitchen Cabinet,” which one campaign finance expert said appears to be the first of its kind.

In a tweet, Ramaswamy wrote that “starting today, *anyone* can fundraise for the Vivek 2024 campaign & make a 10% commission.”

He said in a video announcing the initiative that it came out of a desire to “democratize the ability to make money,” casting the traditional system of campaign fundraising as an “oligopoly” of the managerial class.

“If somebody … is going to make 10% of the money they would raise for me or other candidates, it might as well be you,” he said. “Let’s decentralize that.”

That language echoes Ramaswamy’s broader pitch to GOP voters, including a pledge to boost the economy by upending bureaucracy (which he blends with a Trump-style attack on “woke” values compared to “American national identity”).

Ramaswamy’s campaign CEO, Ben Yoho, said in an interview with ABC News that they hope to reach their first thousand applications for the program on Monday after receiving around 300 applications within the first several hours of the launch.

Applicants accepted after a background check will be considered freelance contractors for the campaign and paid their commission on total funds raised, Yoho said.

The announcement drew some negative reactions on social media, with users likening the “kitchen cabinet” to a multi-level marketing scheme, in which participants receive a commission for recruiting others.

Yoho defended the initiative as standard practice, saying, “This is a flat-base commission, just like we pay our political fundraiser who’s on staff here. … This just expands that opportunity to our grassroots supporters.”

Campaign finance attorney and former Democratic National Committee Chief Counsel Joe Birkenstock said that while the concept of commission-based fundraising is not entirely new, he has not seen anyone execute it before involving their supporters.

“As is not uncommon, you see ‘outsider’ candidates tend to be the ones who pursue these kind of novel strategies,” he said. “I think they’re gonna find that the juice really isn’t worth the squeeze. But it’s not something I can point to other examples having already gone wrong. I just think they’re kind of tackling a little bit of uncharted territory. And I think they need to be ready for a lot of surprises.”

“That’s less for specific legal reasons than for kind of overall compliance strategy, and, you know, to some extent, just for optics reasons,” he said.

Ramaswamy, with an estimated net worth of at least $630 million, according to Forbes, has said he’s contributed $15 million to his own campaign and has already surpassed the 40,000-donor threshold to make the first Republican primary debate stage in August — if he also continues to get at least 1% support in national voter surveys.

FiveThirtyEight’s polling average currently has him at about 4%.

Given this, when asked about the reasoning behind the new program, Yoho said that while Ramaswamy will continue to invest in his campaign, uncertainty about future debate thresholds and future expenses were considerable factors.

“We have to build the ground team, both in regards to volunteer activities, but also the grassroots army small-dollar donors that will be able to lift this campaign up … and we need a quick surge of resources to defeat Joe Biden,” he said.

Ramaswamy isn’t the only White House hopeful employing unusual strategies to increase donations: North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum is offering $20 gift cards for supporters who donate at least $1.

ABC News’ Kelsey Walsh contributed to this report.

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