BIG MONEY FOR THE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES

ABSTRACT: Tracking the tons of money already flowing into the 2016 presidential campaign is not easy. There are four main avenues for presidential campaign fundraising and spending today, when as recently as 2008 there was really only one major one – the candidate’s official campaign committee. A candidate’s official committee is limited to donations from individuals of up to $2,700.

Super Political Action Committees (PACs) are one of the new fundraising vehicles. They can accept unlimited donations from individuals, corporations, and other entities. As-of June 30, single-candidate, presidential Super PACs had raised $258 million. This is 16 times the amount such Super PACs had raised at this point in the last presidential campaign. And it is double the amount raised by the official campaign committees.

Fewer than 400 families have given almost half of the $388 million raised by the presidential candidates’ campaigns and Super PACs. While 48,000 Americans have donated $130 million to the presidential candidates’ campaigns, just 65 donors have given an equal amount – $132 million – to the candidates’ Super PACs. Having a wealthy backer or a few, makes a candidate viable today when in the past they wouldn’t have made it to the starting gate.

What all this means is that a small number of the wealthiest people in the US are exercising enormous influence over who our presidential candidates are and what policies they espouse. The rest of us are sitting on the sidelines watching and wondering if our votes or voices matter – and whether our country is still a democracy or not.

FULL POST: Tracking the tons of money already flowing into the 2016 presidential campaign is not easy. Court decisions, creative campaign lawyers, and lax enforcement have all contributed to opening up new avenues for campaign fundraising and making it impossible in some cases to identify the source of the money.

There are four main avenues for presidential campaign fundraising and spending today, when as recently as 2008 there was really only one major one – the candidate’s official campaign committee. [1] Today we have:

  1. Candidates’ official campaign committees – limited to donations from individuals of up to $2,700. Have to disclose donors of over $250.
  2. Candidate-specific Super Political Action Committees (PACs) – unlimited donations from individuals, corporations, and other entities. Have to disclose donors.
  3. Other PACs and Super PACs – some can receive unlimited donations from a wide variety of entities; others are limited. Have to disclose donors.
  4. “Dark money” organizations, usually not-for-profit entities – unlimited donations from a wide variety of entities. Do not have to disclose donors.

While any viable presidential candidate today must raise staggering amounts of money, different candidates have different patterns in their fundraising. For example, the Clinton and Sanders campaigns recently reported raising similar amounts of money over the last 3 months, $28 million and $26 million respectively. However, Clinton raised $19 million, roughly two-thirds of her money, through 60 fundraising events where the typical contribution was $2,700. Sanders has held only 7 fundraising events throughout the entire campaign and they typically cost $100 to attend. The bulk of his money came from online contributions where the average contribution was $30 and 99% of his contributions were $100 or less. [2] [3]

The use of candidate-specific Super PACs also varies. While they are supposed to operate independently of the candidate’s official campaign, in reality their operations are complementary if not actually coordinated, so analysis of a candidate’s campaign’s financial status typically combines figures for the candidate’s campaign and his or her Super PAC(s). These Super PACs, while technically barred from coordinating tactics and plans with the official campaign, are increasingly paying for core costs of a campaign, including, for example, the candidate’s travel, polling, and, of course, advertising. Furthermore, candidates are often directly involved with their Super PACs’ fundraising. The Super PACs have effectively eviscerated laws on contribution limits that were put in place to prevent bribery and corruption. [4]

Official data are available on the campaigns’ fundraising through June 30. At that point, the single-candidate, presidential Super PACs had raised $258 million. This is 16 times the amount such Super PACs had raised at this point in the last presidential campaign. And it is double the amount raised by the campaigns themselves. [5] Four of the top 7 candidates in terms of fundraising had raised more money through their Super PACs than through their campaigns, while one had raised no Super PAC money and another had essentially only raised Super PAC money: [6]

  • Jeb Bush:                Total raised: $115 million             Super PAC: $103 m          Campaign: $11 m
  • Hillary Clinton:     Total raised:  $68 million             Super PAC: $20 m            Campaign: $48 m
  • Ted Cruz:                Total raised: $53 million              Super PAC:   $39 m           Campaign: $14 m
  • Marco Rubio:         Total raised: $27 million              Super PAC:   $17 m           Campaign: $10 m
  • Ben Carson:            Total raised: $17 million              Super PAC:   $7 m             Campaign: $11 m
  • Bernie Sanders:     Total raised:   $16 million            Super PAC:   $0 m            Campaign: $16 m
  • Chris Christie:        Total raised: $14 million             Super PAC:   $14 m           Campaign:  $0 m

Fewer than 400 families have given almost half of the $388 million raised by the presidential candidates’ campaigns and Super PACs. Much of the Super PAC money is coming from a small handful of individuals and families. While 48,000 Americans have donated $130 million to the presidential candidates’ campaigns, just 65 donors have given an equal amount – $132 million – to the candidates’ Super PACs. These wealthy contributors not only have great access to the candidates they support, they are often confidantes and sometimes have business dealings with the candidates or entities that the candidates run. Having a wealthy backer or a few, makes a candidate viable today when in the past they wouldn’t have made it to the starting gate. [7] For example:

Cruz: 6 people, 4 individuals from one family and 2 other individuals, have contributed the $36 million his Super PACs have received. Under our previous campaign laws, it would have required over 13,000 individuals giving the maximum $2,700 to raise this much money.

Rubio: 4 donors have contributed $12.5 million.

Mike Huckabee: 1 individual gave $3 million.

Bush: 26 individuals or corporations have given over $1 million each.

Clinton: 9 individuals have contributed over $1 million each.

Rand Paul: 2 individuals have given a combined $3 million.

What all this means is that a small number of the wealthiest people in the US are exercising enormous influence over who our presidential candidates are and what policies they espouse. The rest of us – 300 million Americans – are sitting on the sidelines watching and wondering if our votes or voices matter – and whether our country is still a democracy or not. [8]

To put the current presidential campaign’s fundraising in some perspective, the $388 million raised by the presidential candidates’ campaigns and Super PACs already – over a year before the final election – is more than the $331 million that Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and their rivals spent in the whole 1992 election. And it is almost 5 times the amount that had been raised at this point in the 2012 presidential campaign. In the 2016 presidential election, spending will be over 20 times what it was just 24 years ago in the 1992 election.

[1]       Pindell, J., 10/1/15, “Evaluating campaign money reports gets more complicated,” The Boston Globe

[2]       Campaign Notebook, 10/2/15, “Sander’s war chest fills fast,” The Boston Globe from the Associated Press

[3]       Bykowicz, J., 9/30/15, “Clinton, Bush steady fundraising amid GOP summer Trump slump,” Associated Press

[4]       Confessore, N., Cohen, S., & Yourish, K., 8/1/15, “Small pool of rich donors dominates election giving,” The New York Times

[5]       Kranish, M., 9/13/15, “In national politics, big money drowning out everyone else,” The Boston Globe

[6]       OpenSecrets.org, 10/4/15, “Behind the candidates: campaign committees and outside groups,” Center for Responsive Politics (http://www.opensecrets.org/pres16/raised_summ.php)

[7]       Confessore, et al., 8/1/15, see above

[8]       Kranish, M., 9/13/15, see above

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