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Why are people sending the Biden-Harris campaign $19.08?

‘I’ve never seen people give in such a specific increment,’ Democratic fundraiser says

Sen. Kamala Harris’ vice presidential bid has inspired some very specific donations.
Sen. Kamala Harris’ vice presidential bid has inspired some very specific donations. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The notifications wouldn’t stop. It had been 24 hours since former Vice President Joe Biden announced that Sen. Kamala Harris would be his running mate in his quest to win the White House. Soon after, the phone of the Democratic Party’s chief fundraiser was buzzing every other minute, alerting him that the campaign had just received another donation of exactly $19.08.

It’s not uncommon for campaigns to solicit donations for particular amounts, like $7 or $23, to make the ask stand out, but a number that precise, down to the red cent, was strange.

“I’ve never seen people give in such a specific increment ever before,” says Clayton Cox, finance director for the Democratic National Committee. But Cox, who was active in his college’s Greek system, knew exactly why.

The ladies of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. were springing into action to support one of their own, Harris, who pledged at Howard University as an undergrad in the 1980s. 

But why $19.08? That’s the year the AKAs, the oldest Black sorority in America, were founded. “The week after she was announced, I was getting one every 15 minutes,” says Cox. “It was that frequent.”

As of Friday, the Biden Victory Fund (a joint fundraising effort between the campaign and the DNC) had received more than 11,000 of these donations totaling almost $219,000, according to DNC Deputy Communications Director Chris Meagher.

Since Harris launched her own presidential bid in 2019, many have described her sorority as a “secret weapon.” But anyone who’s spent time around the ladies of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. knows there’s nothing secret about their pride and they are quick to let you know of the organization to which they belong. At Harris campaign stops, they can be seen decked out in their signature pink and green while calling out out their trademark “SKEE-WEE!”

“Family is my beloved Alpha Kappa Alpha, our Divine 9 and my HBCU [historically Black colleges and universities] brothers and sisters,” Harris said while accepting the vice presidential nomination at this year’s convention. 

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Cox says he’s also seen specific donation amounts from other black Greek organizations known as the “Divine 9.” Cox believes the initial $19.08 donations were organic, though one of his colleagues passed along a digital flyer challenging Black Greeks and HBCU grads to donate based on the year their sorority, fraternity or college was founded. And while there were some donations that came in $19.08 amounts from Harris’ presidential bid, the frequency is higher now that she’s the VP nominee, according to her campaign staff.

It was clear from the beginning of 2020 that the AKAs would play an invaluable role in Harris’ bid, not only financially and organizationally, but as a key part of her identity. As the first woman of color on a major presidential ticket, Harris’ connection to African American voters has been under intense scrutiny by some critics looking to undermine that connection.

While the donations are coming from all over the country, has the momentum slowed in the month since Harris became Biden’s running mate? Somewhat.

“I still get notifications about $19.08 donations,” says Cox. “Every day, several times a day.”

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