I am French and not well-informed on everything happening with the US election. Hence my puzzled state when hearing the joke Obama made about Bernie Sanders:

You look like a million bucks. Or, to put it in some terms you will be able to relate to: you look like 37000 donations of $27 each.

Is it simply related to Bernie Sanders' philosophy about rich people? (As if saying this in terms of donation make it sounds more democratic?) Or is it related to some actual fact?

  • For a sitting President, it's a pretty good joke. Obama always had the best joke writers.
    – user91988
    Commented Feb 22, 2019 at 16:22

2 Answers 2


The joke is referencing Sanders fundraising strategy.

His campaign targeted small donors, and managed to raise an unprecedented amount from online contributions. 27$ is a reference to the average online donation in January, a month when the money raised (~20mil) came almost exclusively from these online contributions.

  • As a follow up : All thing considered, the "27$ average donation" looks more like a catch phrase than a real mean value. Does that sounds right ? Commented Jun 14, 2016 at 14:06
  • 6
    @JoulinNicolas The precise mean value changed over time as donations of different amounts came in. For a while the average really was $27 (after rounding) and in general it has hovered around that quantity.
    – Era
    Commented Jun 14, 2016 at 15:34
  • 1
    Twenty seven is also a funnier number to say than any other number in that range. It flows better. That matters. Guaranteed the speech writers didn't spend a few minutes deciding which number to use for maximum effect.
    – corsiKa
    Commented Jun 14, 2016 at 15:38
  • 8
    The Bernie campaign also heavily promoted their average $27 donation and included an option for that specific amount on their donation form. I'm sure this led to a more stable average for some time. Commented Jun 14, 2016 at 22:42
  • I think @corsiKa is right. 27 is just a really funny number.
    – user1530
    Commented Jun 14, 2016 at 23:15

Yannis was technically right, but his answer doesn’t broach American culture, and culture is the framework for humor; hence why the Frenchman posed the question.

$27 is a popular punchline for the Bern (google “Bern your enthusiasm”) as it’s a metaphor for his grassroots campaign strategy, the most successful in history. When Clinton claimed on Twitter that she was “grassroots” with a million small donors, Sanders counter-tweeted that he had two million donors at an average of $27. Thus, it was a neutral joke for Obama to make, and relevant in its reflection on Bernie's political philosophy.

This was a focal point of Bernie's campaign as it highlighted his opposition to “Big Money", i.e. the abuses on Wall Street and the aftermath of Citizens United - a 2010 Supreme Court decision that justified the existence of Super PACs, which allow companies, unions, or individuals to indirectly make unlimited, anonymous donations to political campaigns. It is an incredibly controversial ruling, one that Obama and Sanders both strongly oppose, as it effectively silences the voice of the common people who cannot financially compete with modern corporations, on the basis that companies and unions are individuals, and that individuals vote with their dollar as a modality of the 1st amendment right to Freedom of Speech.

Bernie was the only candidate who did not have, or want, the support of Super PACs.

  • While Sanders may not want the support of any super PACs, he did have the support of (for example) National Nurses United for Patient Protection. It would be more accurate to say that he didn't recommend any super PACs, whereas many other campaigns actively endorse particular super PACs (an activity which may actually be illegal coordination but no one has been prosecuted for it).
    – Brythan
    Commented Jun 16, 2016 at 16:28
  • Isn't there a limit for donations of individuals? If Super PACs count as "individuals", why doesn't the limit apply to them, rendering them effectively useless? Commented Jun 16, 2016 at 18:06
  • @histoerr That would make more sense as a separate question. The short answer is that SuperPACs are not PACs. They can't donate to campaigns at all.
    – Brythan
    Commented Jun 22, 2016 at 18:11
  • 1
    @hstoerr the technicality is that a Super-PAC is not "directly" related to a political campaign. They're not allowed to coordinate and work together. Thus, the Super-PAC donations are used for attacking other candidates (smear ads), as they're not allowed to directly "promote" the beliefs of their candidate (because how could they know those beliefs unless they coordinated?). So yes, there is a limit on donations made directly to the candidate, but Citizens United effectively circumvents that rule.
    – Zah
    Commented Jun 22, 2016 at 18:15

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