Americans will soon get a look at the presidential picks of some of the nation’s richest donors and a progress report on the money flow inside the presidential campaigns.
Late Sunday, on the eve of the Iowa caucuses that mark the start of voting for the 2016 election, super political action committees will reveal their donors for the first time in six months, under a fundraising reporting deadline. Contributors to super PACS are allowed to give as much money as they want. The candidates’ official campaigns, which collect smaller checks, must also report their end-of-year fundraising and spending activities Sunday.
Through Sept. 30, donors to super PACs and the campaigns had already poured about $500 million into the race, in contributions big and small. That money is being used to pay for campaign employees, promotional commercials and, of course, attacks on other candidates.
Here’s a look at what we know about who is underwriting the 15 Republicans and Democrats still in the race – and some questions worth asking with voting to begin Monday.
THE DONALD TRUMP WAY
The consistent Republican poll leader, a celebrity businessman with no political experience, loves to say he’s paying his own way. It’s an assertion that sets him apart from the rest of the candidates, who aren’t billionaires and must rely on others to cover their election costs. Trump says his approach keeps him from being a “puppet” of big donors.
But Trump’s rhetoric hasn’t exactly matched reality. As of the end of September, the most recent fundraising reports showed that small-dollar contributors had chipped in enough to cover most of his roughly $4 million in costs in the three preceding months.
Trump has significantly increased his political spending since then. The $6.3 million he’s spent on television ads in the past few weeks is enough to put him just behind Marco Rubio – who began spending money a full month earlier – as the second-highest GOP candidate spender on paid media. When he began his ad buy, Trump said he’d done so because he felt “guilty” he wasn’t spending more on his campaign, which has benefited from a bounty of free news coverage.
Trump has asserted he’d invest whatever it takes to win, sometimes citing $100 million. Through the end of September, he’d loaned his effort $1.8 million and given about $100,000 more. How much more has he put up since then? Also of interest: Even though he has not emphasized fundraising, eschewing the typical donor dinners and limiting his email solicitations, are contributors flocking to him on their own?
Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz and Ben Carson. These three have made public their end-of-year fundraising totals ahead of the deadline. What is the common denominator among Sanders, a Democratic hopeful, and Cruz and Carson, two conservatives seeking the GOP nomination? Loads of small contributions?
Sanders’ campaign said it raised about $33 million in the three months ending Dec. 31, competitive with Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s $37 million in the same period. For the year, the average Sanders contribution was $27. That’s one-hundredth of the $2,700 a donor is allowed to give a candidate for the primary election. Fundraising records for the first nine months of last year show that 74 percent of his campaign money came from donors who gave $200 or less – the highest rate of small-dollar donations of any candidate in the 2016 race.
Cruz and Carson also have fared well on the small-money front. Through the end of September, Cruz’s campaign raised about 42 percent of its money from these small contributors, and Carson’s, 62 percent. Those rates are expected to hold in the coming reports. Cruz said he amassed an additional $20 million through the end of the year and Carson, $22 million.
SIGNS OF GOP CONSOLIDATION
There’s been public hand-wringing among some Republican Party traditionalists that there are too many candidates in the race, enabling the unconventional Trump and the party-antagonizing Cruz to rise up. The fundraising reports for Rubio, a Florida senator, and the trio of current and former governors, Chris Christie, John Kasich and Jeb Bush, could lend insight into whether donors have chosen among the four.
In the previous fundraising period, Bush, whose father and brother were presidents, was the standout among the four. He raised $13.4 million in the summer and early fall months while Rubio picked up $5.7 million and Christie and Kasich each around $4 million.
But Bush’s polling numbers remain low despite millions of dollars in advertising by a supportive super PAC, and donors may have moved on. In the fall, Rubio seemed to be picking up steam among deep-pocketed money people. In late October, New York hedge-fund billionaire Paul Singer wrote in a letter to fellow would-be donors that the Florida senator is “one of the best communicators the modern Republican Party has seen.”
Meanwhile, Christie and Kasich have enjoyed publicity bumps thanks to their steady focus on New Hampshire, where voters make their choice on Feb. 9. Perhaps donors have noticed.
BIG MONEY, SECRET MONEY
Most of the candidates are counting on outside efforts to supplement their official campaign treasuries.
Sunday’s super PAC disclosures come just hours before Iowans go to caucus, meaning those voters will need to study up if they want to understand just who is underwriting the candidates.
Christie, for example, benefits from a super PAC called America Leads, which reported raising about $11 million through June 30. However, America Leads has already spent or made plans to spend $17 million through mid-February. That means it has secured new donations in the past seven months.
A group helping Rubio, Conservative Solutions PAC raised $16 million in the first half of last year, and has a spending plan of at least $17 million. Clearly, some fresh donations have arrived.
Super PACs helping Cruz also have been landing big new donations, according to Drew Ryun, a GOP strategist assisting one of the groups. Dick Uihlein, founder of Wisconsin shipping giant Uline, ponied up $1 million at the beginning of the year, Ryun said. But because it arrived this month, that donation won’t appear on fundraising documents until mid-February.