In the last five years, Michael Bickelmeyer has been a Domino’s Pizza driver, a Honey Baked Ham crew-member and a Holiday Inn bellhop, according to his résumé. But that’s not all — he was also a 2016 candidate for president of the United States.
And he’s going to run again in 2020.
Bickelmeyer, a 59-year-old Republican from Northeast Ohio is only one of 430 individuals who have filed a form stating their 2020 presidential candidacies to the Federal Election Commission, an agency tasked with enforcing campaign finance laws. With over 600 days left until Nov. 3, 2020, hundreds more are expected to follow suit.
FEC records show the number of individuals who submit this form is skyrocketing in comparison to previous presidential cycles. For the 2000 presidential election, only 418 individuals declared their campaigns to the FEC, a mandatory step for individuals who raise or spend more than $5,000 on contributions and expenditures. For 2016, 1,777 did – a 325% increase over the past five presidential elections.
To be sure, very few individuals who file the FEC form end up being considered serious candidates. Of the 1,777 candidates who reported their campaigns to the FEC in 2016, fewer than 130 reported spending any money at all on campaign disbursements, such as for staff salaries, travel, and campaign advertising. Of those that did, only 51 candidates spent more than $20,000.
Bickelmeyer, for example, reported less than $6,000 in disbursement expenses and had just $10 on hand by the end of his 2016 campaign. President Donald Trump’s principal campaign committee, in comparison, spent more than $300 million on disbursements for the 2016 election and finished with $7.6 million on hand.
When reached by phone, Bickelmeyer told TIME he was too busy to discuss why he thought he was qualified for the job until the next calendar week. His three current jobs are exhausting, Bickelmeyer said, and he needs rest whenever he can get it.
Experts say the ease of filing the documents online plays a role in the number of candidates who declare their campaign intentions with the FEC.
“The internet makes it easier to file because you don’t have to write for the forms, and fill them out and mail them,” says Eli Noam, an economics and finance professor at Columbia with expertise in internet policy issues. “You can just do this at 2 a.m. in the morning in your basement.”
The hyper-visibility of President Donald Trump’s success as an unconventional candidate doesn’t hurt either. In fact, since 2016, celebrities such as Kanye West, Alec Baldwin, and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson have hinted they might be interested in running for president, as have business moguls Mark Cuban and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Noam says the successes of non-political public figures also hinges on their abilities to use nontraditional forms of communication. In the past, you might have had to gain support of the GOP or the Democratic party in order to have a successful candidacy, but now, social media and similar tools can be used to garner supporters.
“It enables people to bypass this filter of traditional politics which included accumulating experience, rising in the ranks and being filtered out by your peers,” Noam said.
Dwayne Johnson said as much and more to Rolling Stone earlier this year.
“I think in a lot of people’s minds, what Trump has proved is that anybody can run for president,” he said. “And in a lot of people’s minds, what he’s also proved is that not everybody should run for president.”
Certainly, not everyone who files this form thinks they can win. People have other motivations, like publicity or vanity, Noam said. But despite these potential factors, the increase is not necessarily a bad thing.
“People get engaged and there’s greater openness,” he said. “What’s wrong with that?”
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