Here’s How Much the Presidential Campaigns Are Spending on Food

Man and woman look like a table filled with pastries; the man wears a shirt that reads “Mike Bloomberg 2020.”

Bernie Sanders’s campaign runs on chain pizza, while the event-catering bills for Mike Bloomberg and Tom Steyer run over $100K

Last Thursday, the presidential candidates made their first monthly financial filings of the year to the Federal Election Commission, offering an interesting look into the labyrinthine finances of campaigns as they made a mad dash to the first votes being cast in Iowa and New Hampshire. While most news outlets focus on overall numbers and cash on hand, and marvel at billionaire Michael Bloomberg spending an average of $7 million a day on his campaign, there were also some fun facts in how each candidate spent money on food.

A caveat, before the numbers: Campaigns have vastly different policies on how they itemize their food spending. Though expenses should be broken up into specific categories, there are often hundreds of line items for reimbursements and per diems, and a good amount of food spending is obscured in fees charged by the advance team and production vendors, which oversee events from walk-through to execution. (And this doesn’t even count the food costs and expenditures that are often included as part of venue rental fees.) For example, a purchase that I watched with my very eyes, the Buttigieg campaign’s visit to the Red Arrow Diner in Manchester, New Hampshire, in early January, is nowhere to be found in the campaign’s filing, likely folded into a bulk travel reimbursement to a staffer.

TL;DR: It’s silly to do any sort of statistical analysis of FEC filings, though line item readings can be informative and entertaining — especially since in total, the top seven campaigns (the ones that are polling with any statistical significance and made the most recent debates) spent over $600,000 on food in just one month.








Inside the billionaire buffet

Billionaire candidate Tom Steyer accounted for the largest chunk of food spending in January, with almost a quarter million dollars worth of expenses. But the battle of billionaire food spending is ongoing — regular readers of the FEC filings (we’re a very cool group) will remember that the Bloomberg campaign made several large payments on December 31, a possible prepayment of services for early 2020. On Friday, the FEC reached out to the Bloomberg campaign to clarify its filings, since bulk prepayments can be used to mask expenditures like Air Culinaire, the ritzy catering service used for Bloomberg’s private jet that appeared many times in his year-end filing but has zero line items for 2020.

Bloomberg and Steyer reach astronomical sums in food spending because while other candidates cater just their fundraisers, the two billionaires feed everyone at most of their rallies and even smaller events. The actual catering spend is likely higher than line items that we were able to pull from the FEC filings; there are known dates for Bloomberg rallies where we were unable to locate a corresponding catering cost, which means that it’s hidden in a venue rental or event production line item. There are some notable spends that we could extract, however:

$24,758.59 on catering for a Bloomberg rally in Miami, where the campaign served kosher pigs in a blanket, Cubanos, and wine. This exceeds all the line items from New Hampshire in the month of January, combined.

$10,846.33 on sushi from Hanabi Restaurant, located a few blocks away from Bloomberg’s New York headquarters. Since the restaurant specializes in low-priced rolls and lunch specials, one could buy over 9,000 pieces of sushi at this price.

$176,175.26 on catering alone for Steyer campaign events across the country.

Spending in the early states


New Hampshire


How much does going first matter? Economically, a lot — the non-billionaire candidates were in Iowa far more often, and spent more than double the amount on food there than they did in New Hampshire, which votes just days after. The Sanders campaign spent a third of its food budget in the Hawkeye State, more than any other candidate.

Interestingly enough, spending in Nevada, the third state to participate in the Democratic primary, greatly outpaced that of New Hampshire, perhaps a concession among the candidates that one of the senators from a neighboring state — Sanders of Vermont or Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts — would likely win the first-in-the-nation primary. (Sanders eventually won, decisively.)

Meanwhile, Steyer has built a firewall in South Carolina, where his astronomical ad spending has propelled him into the double digits in polling. Seven of his eight most expensive line items are for catering in the Palmetto State. More fun facts:

The Steyer campaign spent $85,296.88 on food in South Carolina in January. This is almost double the total amount spent by all candidates in Iowa.

32.7 percent of Bernie Sanders’s food budget went to Iowa restaurants in January, the highest of any candidate. He subsequently won the most votes.

The Bloomberg campaign spent $0 in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina. His campaign is focusing on the delegate-rich Super Tuesday states and beyond.

It’s pizza time

They say that America runs on Dunkin’, but what they don’t tell you is that the Sanders campaign runs on pizza. The current Democratic frontrunner may be from Vermont, but you can’t win an election while feeding everyone Ben and Jerry’s. Want to get the most votes in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada? Feed your staff pizza:

The campaign spent $11,631.99 on pizza, more than 20 percent of the Sanders campaign’s food budget.

$5,209.85 of that was at Domino’s.

$1,307.28 went to competitor Pizza Hut.

Compare that to just $353.57 spent at Dunkin’. We’re supposed to believe that Bernie is from New England?

FEC filings: the data dump

Have a lot of free time? Here are the line items pertaining to food from the FEC filings, separated out by campaign:

Gary He is a photojournalist based in New York City.