Campaigns Taking In 35 Percent Less Cash Than 2008, But There's More We Can't See

Campaigns Taking In 35 Percent Less Cash Than 2008, But There's More We Can't See

6:04pm Oct 19, 2015
Cash, seen partly out of focus.
frankieleon / Flickr

The latest presidential fundraising reports, due last Thursday, might have wrecked the weekend for the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute, but today the institute released its analysis of how the candidates fared.

The big conclusion: Campaigns are not shaking the money loose as effectively as in 2008, the last time the race for the White House was open on both sides. The six Democrats and 16 Republicans who were running in the third quarter collectively raised $273 million; the institute finds that's a 35 percent drop from '08.

Two questions hang over that 35 percent figure. First, how much of the money might have gone to presidential superPACs instead of campaigns? Unlike campaign committees, those outside groups don't have contribution limits. The superPACs didn't disclose any figures last week; their next reports aren't due until Jan. 31 (coincidentally, the day before the Iowa caucuses).

Question No. 2 is whether a superPAC's dollars are worth as much as a campaign committee's cash. Evidence indicates maybe not. TV stations routinely give presidential candidates discounts on TV advertising time, while superPACs pay full price. And there are some costs – moving the candidate around, paying the fees for state ballot access and others – that by law must be paid by the candidate's committee, not an outsider.

Republicans Scott Walker and Rick Perry dropped out of the race last quarter, when they tried, but failed, to let financially strong superPACs take the burden off of their under-financed campaigns. Carly Fiorina, Bobby Jindal and Jeb Bush are now working to improve on that cost-shifting strategy.

Some other highlights from the CFI report give contrasting impressions:

- Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Ben Carson and Ted Cruz's campaigns dominate the fundraising. They claimed two-thirds of the quarter's 167,880 itemized donors (i.e. those who give $201 or more), and collected 77 percent of the small, unitemized contributions. But Clinton got 74 percent of her money from donors of $1,000 or more. The only candidate more dependent on big donors was Bush, at 91 percent.

- But cash on hand looks more balanced within each party. On the Democratic side, Clinton reported $31.5 million, with Sanders at $27.1 million. Among Republicans, Carson had $11.1 million, Cruz $11.9 million, Bush $10 million and Marco Rubio $9.7 million.

Again, this doesn't include the unknown millions being raised by superPACs. When those groups reported their fundraising over the summer, the superPAC backing Jeb Bush had alone raised $103 million. By comparison, the Sunlight Foundation reported that overall superPAC fundraising at the same point in 2011 was just a quarter of that — $26 million.

None of this really applies to Donald Trump, of course. He raised $3.9 million in the third quarter, and he has a superPAC named with his trademarked phrase, "Make America Great Again." But he remains eager to remind voters that he's a billionaire who could pay for the whole campaign himself.

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