Bernie Sanders backers: Being a convention delegate is pricey

Adam Griffin has raised just $539 toward his $4,000 goal. Daniel Abrams figures he only needs $3,000 and has raised more than one-third of that. Annie Vitters, meanwhile, has already surpassed her $3,000 goal.

Feeling the Bern isn’t cheap.

Griffin, Abrams and Eells are among 30 or so Georgia delegates for Bernie Sanders headed to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia later this month. Befitting their newbie status in the world of big-time politics, they and several other Sanders backers quickly realized that winning a delegate slot was just the first step.

Now, they have to find the cash to get to Philadelphia and cover their costs, which include hotel rooms for $400 a night plus meals. Many have turned to crowd-funding websites such as gofundme.com to help raise the money.

Vitters, of Lawrenceville, had never been involved in politics before learning about Sanders. After volunteering for the campaign she learned that she could run to be a delegate to the national convention. She was first named an alternate, then won a spot as a full delegate. Then came the sticker shock.

“I actually had no clue,” said Vitters, who teaches special needs children. “I just thought I’d have to get up there and it wouldn’t matter where I stayed. I thought we could do couch-surfing.”

Instead, the Democratic Party requires delegates to stay at the state’s assigned hotel. Each delegate and alternate had to sign a form committing to paying between $3,000 and $5,000.

“Immediately, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, how am I going to pay for this?’ ” Vitters said. “Part of my was like, ‘No I can’t do it,’ but the other part was like …‘I’m going to find a way.’ ”

It’s a national phenomenon, where Sanders delegates from across the country are asking family, friends and strangers to help pay their way to Philadelphia. A website, adoptaberniedelegate.com, allows potential donors to search by state to find Sanders delegates to support.

It’s not just Sanders supporters using these new Web-based tools, either. At least three delegates pledged to support presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton are doing the same thing.

Franklin Williams of Augusta has raised $950 on gofundme.com, while Eric and Queen Washington, husband-and-wife delegates from Conyers, have raised $960.

Many Republican delegates are doing the same thing. Presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump, like Sanders, has attracted new generations of Americans to politics, and few of them are well-heeled insiders. Will Carter of Savannah is an 18-year-old high school student going to his first convention. He’s trying to raise $10,000 to cover his expenses and has thus far raised $1,000.

Abrams, of Marietta, said it’s a natural extension of the Sanders campaign itself.

“The Sanders campaign hasn’t been funded by wealthy people,” he said. “It’s working people and students like myself.”

Eells, a clinical social worker from Watkinsville, said in a Facebook post that Sanders delegates earned their spots at the convention and that they would continue to fight for him.

“We are not naive in knowing the Clinton machine and how powerful the interests are fueling the machine,” she wrote. “This is not about Bernie. This is a movement.”

Not all Sanders delegates are political neophytes. Clarkston Mayor Ted Terry will be in Philadelphia to support Sanders and is also using crowd funding to help pay his way.

Terry said Sanders’ message resonates with young people typically not interested in politics.

“It’s like when I was 18 or 19,” Terry said. “I was a big Green Party supporter. That same spirit and optimism is invigorating.”

Terry is raising money through rally.org, one of many sites that allow users to create digital fundraisers and solicit donations.

“Who knew going to a political party convention would be so expensive!?!” Terry posted in an update on the site in June. “Many of you know where I stand on the crucial issues facing our country. We need a bold progressive to fight for significant changes in this years platform convening. Please pitch in a small donation to help me cover the airfare ($500+) and hotel ($400/night, 4 night minimum) in Philadelphia this July 25-29. Thank you!”

As of Thursday, Terry had raised $2,600 toward his goal of $5,000.

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