Presidential Campaign Fundraising Update
Last week, we updated you on the amount of special interest political action committee (PAC) money that has already been donated to current members of the House of Representatives. This week, we focus on campaign spending in the Presidential race among the remaining six major party candidates (there are over 150 candidates who officials file reports with the Federal Election Commission (FEC)).
For this analysis, we report on two different ways to impact campaigns: (1) direct contributions to each of the candidates’ campaigns and (2) independent expenditures made by Super PACs and other special interest groups.
At this point, only contributions through January 31, 2016 are available for review on the FEC website. Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have raised far more into their own candidate campaigns than have any of the remaining Republican candidates. Clinton leads all candidates with over $130 million in total receipts thus far, followed by Bernie Sanders at $96 million. Ted Cruz leads the Republican field with over $54 million raised by his campaign, followed by Marco Rubio ($34 million), and Donald Trump ($25 million). John Kasich has raised the least of the remaining candidates, with only $8.6 million raised.
In the race for President, PAC donations barely impact the fundraising totals for most of the candidates, amounting to less than 1% of the total raised by every candidates. Donald Trump is the only candidate in the race to refuse all PAC money.
|Total from PACs|
Source: FEC Reports analyzed by CleanSlateNow.org staff
When Super PACs and other organizations or individuals spend money to support or oppose a candidate (rather than donating it to their campaign), it is called an independent expenditure. As a direct result of the Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United vs. FEC case, federal law cannot currently limit the amount that groups or individuals can spend independently, but they do require those expenditures be reported. As of March 9, over $285 million of independent expenditures has been spent in support of or opposition to any of the candidates in the race for President. Most of that was actually spent on candidates who have since dropped out of the race.
Every candidate in the race has benefitted from independent expenditures in support of their campaigns, with Trump and Sanders receiving the least support from such expenditures and Rubio the most support (among candidates still in the race). Trump has weathered the most spending against him. On the Democratic side, Clinton has faced more than nine times as much money spent independently to oppose her than Sanders has, though she has also received more than 4.5 times more spent independently in support of her campaign than Sanders.
1) Small donors have exerted a lot of influence. Several of the candidates still in the race for President receive major resources from small donations, especially Bernie Sanders. Nearly 70% of Sanders’s campaign receipts have come from donors who have given less than $250, and thus his campaign does not have to divulge their identity. Both Hillary Clinton and Ted Cruz have likewise raised substantial amounts of money from smaller donors. Even Donald Trump, who loaned his campaign over $17 million dollars, has raised over $5.6 million from small donors. If not for the unprecedented amount of money raised by Super PACs, the early story of this election could have been the dramatic impact of small donors in benefiting Sanders on the Democratic side and Cruz on the Republican side.
2) Super PAC money has failed to provide votes at the polls, but it clearly has significant influence on the policy positions of the candidates. Donald Trump has had more money spent opposing his election than any other candidate for President, and yet he leads the Republican field. Jeb Bush had more spent in support for his candidacy, yet he was forced to drop out. These facts may suggest that independent expenditures do not have a corrupting influence on politics, because they clearly do not on their own decide who wins elections. But close analysis of the behavior of the candidates in the campaign clearly shows that candidates chased the money by adjusting their policy positions. Even Jeb Bush commented in one debate that he changed his mind about his favorite team in the Super Bowl because “Peyton Manning wrote me a check.”
3) The current Supreme Court vacancy will likely decide the fate of this issue of political corruption by campaign donations for generations. So far this election cycle, over $304 million has already been spent on independent expenditures in the 2016 election cycle on federal races. As attention shifts over the summer to House and Senate campaigns, that total will only climb and could eclipse the total amount raised and spent by the candidates themselves. This Independent Expenditure loophole was opened by the Supreme Court and can be closed either by an amendment to the Constitution, or by a Supreme Court that reverses the decision in Citizens United v FEC. With the passing of Justice Antonin Scalia, a new Supreme Court Justice may tilt the court in the opposite direction on this key issue, and put an end to this era of largely unregulated and unprecedented campaign spending.