TIME 2016 Election

Joe Biden’s Circle Takes Closer Look at 2016 Run

Joe Biden
Evan Vucci—AP Vice President Joe Biden speaks at the White House Clean Energy Investment Summit on June 16, 2015, in Washington.

But the Vice President has yet to make a decision on whether to challenge Hillary Clinton

Vice President Joe Biden’s associates have resumed discussions about a 2016 presidential run after largely shelving such deliberations while his son was sick and dying earlier this year. But Biden has yet to tell his staff whether he will run or personally ask them to do any planning for a potential campaign, according to several people close to the vice president.

Recent conversations between Biden’s associates and Democratic donors and operatives have led to speculation that Biden will challenge front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton for the party’s nomination, and individuals close to Biden have started looking into the options that might be available to him if he were to run, such as potential staff in Iowa and the filing deadlines for entering the Democratic field.

But the people close to the vice president say his launching a White House run remains uncertain. Biden is expected to make a final decision as soon as early September, according to those familiar with his plans.

The people close to Biden spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the deliberations publicly.

The renewed focus on Biden comes amid some signs of weakness for Clinton, including declines in her favorability ratings among voters in recent polling. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is challenging Clinton for the Democratic nomination, has been attracting large crowds with his liberal economic message, evidence of a hunger within the party for an alternative to Clinton’s candidacy.

Biden’s entry could reshape the dynamics of the Democratic primary, giving the party another option that might appeal to a wide swath of voters. Yet Clinton remains enormously popular among Democrats. She has amassed a large staff of seasoned operatives and raised nearly $50 million for her campaign.

There are few signs, meanwhile, that Biden is taking solid steps toward launching a campaign. He has had little interaction with a “draft Biden” group pushing him to run, and has yet to look for office space in early voting states or raise money for a potential bid.

Kendra Barkoff, the vice president’s press secretary, said Biden was spending his time working on President Barack Obama’s agenda, not on planning his own potential presidential campaign.

“As the Biden family continues to go through this difficult time, the vice president is focused on his family and immersed in his work,” Barkoff said.

Biden’s son, Beau, died of brain cancer in May. The younger Biden’s death prompted an outpouring of support for the vice president, who also lost a daughter and his first wife in a car accident in 1972.

Since Beau Biden’s death, his father has surrounded himself with longtime confidants and former aides for comfort and emotional support. But these allies also were involved with Biden’s two previous presidential campaigns. Former Delaware Sen. Ted Kaufman, who has advised Biden for most of his political career, and Mike Donilon, a friend and longtime political aide, have both been given offices in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building steps from the vice president’s West Wing office.

In recent weeks, a bevy of longtime donors, supporters and former staffers have reached out to the vice president and his staff to offer their condolences, as well as to say they’d be on board if he chooses to run.

The intense speculation around a potential Biden run grew even louder this past week when Fox News reported that Biden chief of staff Steve Ricchetti had met for breakfast with Louis Susman, a prominent Democratic donor and former U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom. But individuals familiar with the meeting said Susman and Ricchetti are longtime friends and that Susman initiated the meeting.

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd also reported Saturday that Beau Biden had, before his death, urged his father to run.

Biden, who is 72, would be the oldest president ever elected to a first term if he ran for the White House and won. He would bring to the race 36 years of experience in the Senate as well as a breadth of foreign and domestic policy experience from his years as vice president and two previous presidential campaigns. He’s been a key negotiator for Obama during fiscal fights on Capitol Hill and also the point person for administration policy in Ukraine and Iraq.

However, Biden’s freewheeling, undisciplined style has caused headaches for the White House and has long been a concern for Democrats as he’s weighed the prospect of running in 2016.

___

Lederman reported from New York. Associated Press writer Lisa Lerer contributed to this report.

TIME 2016 Election

Donald Trump Holds Lead in New Poll as GOP Debate Nears

The Trump surge shows no sign of abating

Donald Trump continues to lead the Republican primary field for the 2016 presidential nomination just days before the leading candidates debate for the first time, according to results from a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released on Sunday.

The poll found that Trump was the first choice for 19% of Republican primary voters, surging ahead of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker with 15% and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush with 14%. Trump’s lead, according to the Journal, is a “significant” jump from the previous WSJ/NBC poll conducted in June, when only 1% of surveyed Republicans had picked him as their first choice — a triumph many have attributed to the buzz surrounding Trump’s flurry of controversies.

Only the 10 candidates with the highest averages across the last five national polls will be eligible to participate on Thursday’s inaugural GOP debate on Fox News. Although the precise averaging method is not yet known, NBC estimated that the top ten candidates as of Sunday — in addition to Trump, Walker and Bush — are Sen. Rand Paul, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Sen. Marco Rubio, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Sen. Ted Cruz, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

Firmly atop the national polls, the real state mogul also took the opportunity on Sunday morning to take a jab at some of his fellow GOP candidates, who attended an event on Saturday hosted by a group affiliated with multibillionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch:

The WSJ/NBC poll, whose full results will be released on Monday, was conducted between July 26 and July 30. The margin of error for 252 surveyed GOP primary voters is ±6.17%.

Read Next: The Trumpification of Congress

[WSJ]

TIME Environment

Obama to Unveil Stricter Rules to Fight Climate Change

Will require a 32 percent cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030

President Barack Obama will impose even steeper cuts on greenhouse gas emissions from U.S. power plants than previously expected, senior administration officials said Sunday, in what the president called the most significant step the U.S. has ever taken to fight global warming.

A year after proposing unprecedented carbon dioxide limits, Obama was poised to finalize the rule at a White House event on Monday. In a video posted to Facebook, Obama said the limits were backed up by decades of data showing that without tough action, the world will face more extreme weather and escalating health problems like asthma.

“Climate change is not a problem for another generation,” Obama said. “Not anymore.”

Opponents vowed to sue immediately, and planned to ask the courts to put the rule on hold while legal challenges play out. Many states have threatened not to comply.

In his initial proposal, Obama had mandated a 30 percent nationwide cut in carbon dioxide emissions by 2030, compared to 2005 levels. The final version will require a 32 percent cut instead, said the officials, who weren’t authorized to comment by name and requested anonymity.

The final rule also gives states an additional two years — until 2022 — to comply, officials said, yielding to complaints that the original deadline was too soon. States will also have until 2018 instead of 2017 to submit their plans for how they’ll meet their targets.

But the administration will attempt to incentivize states to take action earlier by offering credits to states that boost renewable sources like wind and solar in 2020 and 2021, officials said.

The focus on renewables marks a significant shift from the earlier version that sought to accelerate the ongoing transition from coal-fired power to natural gas plants, which emit far less carbon dioxide. The revised rule aims to keep the share of natural gas in the nation’s power mix at current levels.

The stricter limits in the final plan were certain to incense energy industry advocates who had already balked at the more lenient limits in the proposed plan. But the Obama administration said its tweaks would cut energy costs and address concerns about power grid reliability.

The Obama administration previously predicted the emissions limits will cost up to $8.8 billion annually by 2030, although it said those costs would be far outweighed by health savings from fewer asthma attacks and other benefits. The actual price won’t be clear until states decide how they’ll reach their targets.

America’s largest source of greenhouse gases, power plants account for roughly one-third of all U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases blamed for global warming. Obama’s rule assigns customized targets to each state, then leaves it up to the state to determine how to meet them.

In the works for years, the power plant rule forms the cornerstone of Obama’s plan to curb U.S. emissions and keep global temperatures from climbing, and its success is pivotal to the legacy Obama hopes to leave on climate change. Never before has the U.S. sought to restrict carbon dioxide from existing power plants.

By clamping down on power plant emissions, Obama is also working to increase his leverage and credibility with other nations whose commitments he’s seeking for a global climate treaty to be finalized later this year in Paris. As its contribution to that treaty, the U.S. has pledged to cut overall emissions 26 percent to 28 percent by 2025, compared to 2005.

Even before the rule was finalized, more than a dozen states announced plans to fight it. At the urging of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, some Republican governors have declared they simply won’t comply, setting up a certain confrontation with the Environmental Protection Agency, which by law can force its own plan on states that fail to submit implementation plans.

Yet even in many of those states, power companies and local utility authorities have started preparing to meet the targets. New, more efficient plants that are replacing older and dirtier ones have already pushed emissions down nearly 13 percent since 2005, putting them about halfway to meeting Obama’s goal.

In Congress, lawmakers have sought to use legislation to stop Obama’s regulation. McConnell has also tried previously to use an obscure, rarely successful maneuver to allow Congress to vote it down.

The more serious threat to Obama’s rule will likely come in the courts. The Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, which represents energy companies, said 20 to 30 states were poised to join with industry in suing over the rule. The Obama administration has a mixed track record in fending off legal challenges to its climate rules.

TIME Koch Brothers

Charles Koch Urges Conservatives to Skip ‘Corporate Welfare’

Charles Koch
Bo Rader—Wichita Eagle/MCT via Getty Images Charles Koch, head of Koch Industries, on Feb 27, 2007.

Conservative billionaire Charles Koch told his ultra-rich friends that they face a “life and death” decision whether to keep lobbying for tax breaks and government subsidies.

“Business leaders (must) recognize that their behavior is suicide, that it is suicide long term. To survive, long-term, they have to start opposing, rather than promoting, corporate welfare,” Koch told about 450 allies at an Orange County, Calif., summit that began Saturday.

With the Pacific Ocean behind him and friendly CEOs sipping wine nearby, one of the biggest political donors in the country said it is time for conservatives to start eschewing tax breaks.

“Obviously, this prescription will not be an easy pill for many business people to swallow. Because short term, taking the principled path is going to cost some companies some profits, as it will for Koch Industries,” the 79-year-old Koch said. “But long term, it will allow business people to continue to own and run their businesses, which none of us will be able to do, in my view, in the future otherwise.”

He pointed to big banks that took “virtually free money from the Fed” and bailouts in exchange for regulations. “Now, the chickens are coming home to roost,” Koch said. “The Fed is taking control of these banks. The Fed now decides what businesses they can be in and how they run those businesses.” Koch said “regulators, auditors, controllers” are implanted at the banks to keep tabs. The banks, Koch argued, end up making political donations to avoid too much oversight.

Koch warned that other businesses would be next if their leaders continue taking government subsidies. “This means stopping the subsidies, mandates and special privileges for business that enriches the haves at the expense of the have-nots,” Koch said.

It’s that class distinction that Koch has made the focus of seminars at the luxurious resort. “In my view, we’re heading toward a two-tiered society, a society that is destroying opportunities for the disadvantaged and creating welfare for the rich,” Koch said. “Misguided policies are a creating a permanent underclass, crippling our economy and corrupting the business community—present company excepted, of course. But what this is doing, then, is turning more and more Americans against what they mistakenly believe is free enterprise.”

With his brother David, Koch is among the most powerful players in Republican politics by virtue of their wealth. Forbes estimates he and his brother is each worth $40 billion. They are tied for the No. 4 spot on Forbes’ rankings of the richest Americans.

Koch’s opinions shape opinions among rank-and-file conservatives and congressional leaders alike. In fact, five White House hopefuls planned to cycle through the three-day summit in Dana Point, Calif. At least 14 members of Congress or Governors were on-hand, as well, and former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels was set to hold a private salon about campus speech later Saturday.

Koch’s stinging words came as the allies who support the Koch-backed network of social and political groups mingled with like-minded leaders. The Koch-backed network plans to spend $889 million ahead of the 2016 elections, although officials are quick to point out that not all of that is explicitly political.

Some of it, advisers say, will be spent pushing against what Koch sees as unjustifiable corporate welfare.

TIME Carly Fiorina

Carly Fiorina: I’ve Been Called Bimbo—and Worse

Carly Fiorina speaks during the Western Conservative Summit at the Colorado Convention Center on June 27, 2015 in Denver, Colorado.
Theo Stroomer—Getty Images Carly Fiorina speaks during the Western Conservative Summit at the Colorado Convention Center on June 27, 2015 in Denver, Colorado.

"I’ve been called the other name that starts with a B."

When it comes to double standards, Carly Fiorina considers herself a triple threat: female leaders are treated differently than men, conservative millionaires and billionaires get tougher treatment than liberal ones and political elites are favored over neophytes.

Not that she minds. The Republican presidential candidate says the fact that she has an uphill climb is part of the rationale for her campaign.

“Sometimes, people are going to call you names. That’s the price of leadership,” Fiorina told 450 deep-pocketed conservative donors to the political machine backed by industrialists Charles and David Koch. “Sometimes, women are sometimes called different names than men.”

Asked which was more sexist—presidential politics or Silicon Valley—the former Hewlett-Packard CEO dodged. “That’s a no-win question,” she chuckled.

“I’ve been called a bimbo at work. I’ve been called the other name that starts with a B,” she said, noting that she is often asked about the ways a female President might approach the White House differently than her predecessors. “Can you think of a single instance in which a man’s judgment might have been clouded by his hormones? Any at all? Ever in the Oval Office?” Fiorina said to applause.

Fiorina said she also sees a double standard in how the ultra-rich are described by journalists. Speaking before those very people, she chided Politico’s Mike Allen for asking if there was too much money in the political space.

“I don’t remember seeing big newspaper articles about George Soros or Tom Steyer. The media doesn’t like one of money but it’s OK with another kind of money,” she said to applause. “Everyone has a right to speech in this country. And as we all know, any kind of speech costs money.”

Fiorina, who unsuccessfully ran for Senate in California in 2010, is running on her outsider credentials. She badly trails her rivals and is at risk of missing the cutoff threshold for Thursday’s primetime debate in Cleveland. She insists it’s too soon to tell if she will get a podium or not. “We don’t know what debate we’re in yet and we don’t know which polls (organizers are using to draw the cutoff,)” Fiorina said. “I have the lowest name ID of anyone running. Over half the nation has never heard my name.”

Compare that with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, whom she jabbed as a member of the political dynasty that could see its third member elected President. “We have festering problems in Washington, D.C.: a government that has grown bigger, more powerful, more intrusive, more costly, more inept, more corrupt for 40 plus years,” Fiorina said. “Why do you think you are the Bush who can change that?”

TIME Scott Walker

Scott Walker Still Isn’t Sure If President Obama Is Christian

Scott Walker, governor of Wisconsin and Republican U.S. 2016 presidential candidate, speaks during The Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa, U.S., on Saturday, July 18, 2015.
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images Scott Walker, governor of Wisconsin and Republican U.S. 2016 presidential candidate, speaks during The Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa, U.S., on Saturday, July 18, 2015.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker still isn’t sure President Obama is Christian.

“I don’t know,” the Republican presidential candidate said Saturday during an appearance before 450 donors to the political network backed by conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch. “I presume he is,” Walker continued when asked if he has had time to check since he set off a firestorm in February when he couldn’t answer if the President is Christian.

“You’re not going to get a different answer than I said before,” Walker said toward the end of a Q&A session moderated by Politico’s Mike Allen. Walker said he’s never asked Obama about his faith. “As someone who is a believer myself, I don’t presume to know someone’s beliefs about whether they follow Christ or not unless I’ve actually talked with him.”

Obama is Christian, attends Christian services and has spoken frequently about his Christian faith. During his 2008 campaign, he was held to account for statements made in his Christian church in Chicago. His harshest critics often—wrongly—contend that he a is Muslim.

That’s not enough to settle the matter definitively for Walker. This is as far as he would go: “He said he is, and I take him at his word.”

TIME 2016 Election

Beau Biden’s Dying Wish Was for His Dad to Run for President, Report Says

Beau Biden, Joe Biden
Charles Dharapak—AP At the time of the photo, Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Joe Biden, embraces his son Beau on stage at the Democratic National Convention in Denver on Aug. 27, 2008.

Joe Biden is reportedly considering running in 2016

Vice President Joe Biden’s late son Beau told his father to run for president before he died, according to a report.

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, in her weekend column entitled “Joe Biden in 2016: What Would Beau Do?,” describes, in great detail, a conversation that Beau had with his father before dying, urging his father to run for president rather than letting the office fall to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Joseph “Beau” Biden III died of brain cancer at the end of May. Dowd’s source for the anecdote is not clear from the column.

Vice President Biden has been holding meetings at his Washington home to discuss the possibility of a run, according to Dowd.

TIME White House

President Obama Gets an Early Start on Celebrating His Birthday

president barack obama
Aude Guerrucci—picture-alliance/AP United States President Barack Obama makes remarks prior to signing the three month extension of mass transit and highway funding bill in the Oval Office of the White House on July 31, 2015, in Washington, DC.

This is how he's marking his 54th

(WASHINGTON) — President Barack Obama is getting a head start on turning a year older.

Obama turns 54 on Tuesday.

In what has become an annual birthday tradition, the president started celebrating on Saturday by taking a trio of friends from his Hawaii childhood for a golf outing at Andrews Air Force Base.

The group then spends the night at the secluded Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland’s Catoctin Mountains.

The White House said the other members of Obama’s foursome are his longtime friends Mike Ramos, Bobby Titcomb and Greg Orme.

Obama planned to return to the White House on Sunday afternoon.

TIME Campaign Finance

Few New Mega-Donors Join 2016 Fundraising

Jeb Bush
John Raoux—AP In this July 27, 2015 file photo, Republican presidential candidate, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks in Longwood, Fla.

The 2016 presidential race may be a whole new ball game in terms of fundraising, but most of the players’ names are awfully familiar — even if their faces are a bit more lined.

Very few of the top donors to the super PACs backing one of the many GOP White House hopefuls or handful of Democratic candidates are new to giving substantial political gifts, according to a review of Federal Election Commission data by the Center for Responsive Politics, and many have been active for decades.

The relative absence of new faces in the very small pool of really big donors magnifies the impact of ultra-wealthy individuals who have been participating in the process for years — the Robert McNairs, Jeffrey Katzenbergs and Richard Uihleins of the fundraising world.

But they are anteing up more than ever before as their favored candidates’ campaigns become ever more intertwined with the super PACs, announcing combined fundraising totals and splitting up activities, like voter outreach, that once were firmly functions of the campaign committees — not the supposedly independent outside groups.

While there are no complete ingenues among the rosters of top donors to the super PACs, which filed their disclosure reports for the first half of the year this week, there are a few who previously haven’t given sums anything like those they are notching this year. They include the Texas-based Wilks family, four members of which gave $15 million to groups backing Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas); brothers Farris and Dan are religious conservatives who got rich in the fracking business. Another: Laura Perlmutter, who gave $2 million to a super PAC supporting Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

The pure numbers are staggering: In the 2012 election cycle, all the presidential super PACs together had raised about $26 million by June 30 of the year before the vote. This time, the total comes to more than $258 million at the same point in time.

That’s about double the more than $130 million the presidential campaigns raised in the first six months of this year, setting up a new paradigm for campaign finance at the federal level. Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton, with combined totals of $114 million and $71 million respectively, have settled themselves atop the all time list of presidential campaign-related fundraising in the first six months of the year before the election.

Several of the Republican efforts have been utterly dominated by outside groups raising unlimited amounts from individuals, corporations and other organizations. Seven Republican candidates reported larger fundraising totals for their supposedly unconnected super PACs than they disclosed for their campaigns, with the pro-Bush Right to Rise group pulling in nearly 10 times as much as the campaign itself.

A caveat, though: Absent this super PAC fundraising, the candidates themselves are lagging far behind the pace set in 2007, the last campaign with no incumbent seeking re-election. Six of the seven largest fundraising totals at this point in all prior cycles came in 2007 when Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, John McCain and John Edwards all raised more than $23 million by June 30. Only four of this year’s competitors (Bush, Clinton, Cruz and Rubio) have reached that level for their campaigns and super PACs combined.

One important impact of super PAC activity in the 2012 presidential race could be looming again itself again in the earliest stages of the 2016 contest. These groups, which allow candidates to benefit from the seemingly limitless financial support of a small number of ardent and affluent supporters, can keep campaigns going long after they ordinarily would have died a natural death.

In 2012 the campaigns of former Rep. Newt Gingrich (Ga.), former Sen. Rick Santorum (Penn.) and other Republicans were prolonged by funding in the tens of millions from a handful of supporters. Friday’s filings show that contributions from five or fewer donors make up the majority of the super PAC funding for nine of the GOP candidates: Rubio, Rand Paul, Cruz, Rick Perry, Carly Fiorina, Bobby Jindal, Scott Walker, Mike Huckabee and Santorum. In many cases, the money given by five or fewer individuals or institutions is more than the total given by all individuals directly to the presidential campaign committees of these contenders.

Some donors have hedged their bets, giving large amounts to groups backing multiple candidates. Hedge fund manager Robert Mercer, for instance, was among the top three donors to super PACs backing both Jindal and Cruz, though he gave far more to the pro-Cruz effort. Houston Texans owner Robert McNair was more equitable, giving $500,000 each to super PACs backing no less than four Republican candidates: Security is Strength (Graham), Unintimidated (Walker), Keep the Promise (Cruz) and Right to Rise USA (Bush).

Only a few of the 17 declared Republican candidates, five Democrats, or the Green Party entry lacks at least one supporting super PAC, including Sen. Bernie Sanders(D-Vt.), former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee and Green Party candidate Jill Stein. On the other hand, Paul has at least two major super PACs in his corner, andCruz has four, each of which seems to have been “purchased” by one or two mega-donors and has a name that is some version of “Keep the Promise.”

What’s a wealthy donor to do? The two primary outside groups supporting Hillary Clinton’s campaign have addressed the potential for confusion by organizing a joint fundraising committee to distribute funds among themselves — one-stop shopping that keeps prospective contributors from having to choose and the groups from having to compete for checks. Priorities USA Action will get the bulk of the funds, with a smaller share going to Correct the Record, the group that fights attacks on the former secretary of state.

TIME Campaign Finance

Super PACs’ Haul So Far Tops $266 Million

Republican presidential candidate and former Florida governor Jeb Bush speaks to workers at Thumbtack on July 16, 2015 in San Francisco, California.
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images Republican presidential candidate and former Florida governor Jeb Bush speaks to workers at Thumbtack on July 16, 2015 in San Francisco, California.

That's 17 times as much as they did in 2012

Presidential super PACs operating expansive shadow campaigns — buying ads, hosting town hall meetings and hiring canvassers — have raised more than twice as much money as the candidates themselves, newly filed campaign finance documents show.

About three dozen such super PACs collectively raised more than $266 million from January through June while the campaigns of 2016 presidential hopefuls collectively raised just half that much — about $130 million — according to a Center for Public Integrity review.

The total raised by super PACs is about 17 times more than comparable groups raised during the same period four years ago, when the term “super PAC” had yet to make it into the dictionary.

Super PACs, made possible thanks to the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision, can accept unlimited donations from corporations, unions and individuals. They may use the funds to support or oppose candidates, but are prohibited from coordinating their spending with campaigns.

Leading in the money chase: Right to Rise USA, a group that supports former Florida Republican Gov. Jeb Bush, which raised more than $103 million.

Bush helped raise millions for the group, despite the anti-coordination rules. Bush attended numerous fundraising events for the super PAC, but got around the prohibition by making appearances prior to announcing his 2016 candidacy.

Two dozen donors each gave Right to Rise USA at least $1 million during the year’s first half, with about 90 percent of it coming before Bush officially launched his campaign in June. One of those million-dollar donors was NextEra Energy, a Florida-based Fortune 200 energy company.

A pair of famous Texas retirees also made handsome donations to Right to Rise USA: former presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, who gave $125,000 and $95,000, respectively.

Millionaires club

While the pro-Bush super PAC dominated all others, a cluster of five super PACs supporting the presidential candidacy of Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, raised about $38 million.

Two groups backing Republican Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin raised more than $26 million.

And a super PAC backing Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., raised about $16 million.

In each case, the super PACs raised more than the candidates themselves — sometimes many times over. Bush’s official campaign, for instance, has collected just $11 million to date.

Never before have super PACs played such a prominent role in a presidential contest — especially so early in the process. Now, nearly every major candidate has a super PAC doppelganger.

Among the Republican contenders, only celebrity business tycoon Donald Trump, who so far has self-funded the bulk of his campaign, doesn’t yet have an allied super PAC capable of raising significant cash.

This represents a dramatic shift from four years ago.

At this stage of the 2012 presidential election, only President Barack Obama and eventual Republican nominee Mitt Romney enjoyed the support of aligned super PACs. Super PACs supporting many 2012 GOP hopefuls did not form until the fall or winter of 2011.

“The first thing I’m going to do as a presidential candidate is see if there’s a super PAC out there to support me, or someone willing to form a super PAC to help me,” said John Grimaldi, a political operative who worked for a pro-Newt Gingrich super PAC in 2012 but is not working for a campaign or super PAC this election cycle.

“A super PAC eliminates a major portion of your campaign expenditures as a candidate,” Grimaldi continued. “It makes it easier to run.”

Why? The answer, in part, is that deep-pocketed donors who are prohibited from donating large sums of money directly to the candidates themselves may give unlimited amounts to super PACs — as may corporations and labor unions.

No limits, no problem

Candidates may only accept donations of $2,700 per person, per election, and $5,000 per election from corporate or labor political action committees.

“We are not subject to contribution limits like the campaigns are, so that certainly helps build resources to get our message out,” said Jordan Russell, spokesman for the Opportunity and Freedom PAC, which is backing former Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s White House run.

The Opportunity and Freedom PAC has already spent more than $2.3 million on advertisements touting Perry — more than twice as much as the Republican’s presidential campaign raised through the end of June.

This dynamic frustrates many of the presidential contenders, and some, including Cruz, are openly calling for contribution limits to candidates to be eliminated entirely.

“Our current campaign finance system is ridiculous,” Cruz told the Center for Public Integrity in a recent interview. “The way to do it is to let campaigns speak for themselves directly.”

Even grassroots favorites, such as Republican Ben Carson, a former neurosurgeon, have allied super PACs.

One super PAC working on Carson’s behalf raised $13.5 million last year and another $2.9 million during the first half of 2015, while Carson’s campaign, which was launched in May, has raised $10.6 million.

“I personally have not gone around chasing after billionaires and special interest groups,” Carson told the Center for Public Integrity. “We’re getting an enormous response from the grassroots. That’s the people that I want to be beholden to.”

Wealthy donors have certainly helped fuel the super PAC spree — and many of them are hedging their bets and supporting multiple White House contenders in a field that’s grown to 17 Republicans and five Democrats.

Hedging their bets

Rich donors flirting with multiple Republican candidates spread, in some cases, millions of dollars among super PACs backing different candidates. This continues a trend that first emerged after presidential candidates themselves released campaign disclosures earlier this month.

Take hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, who laid down $11 million to a pro-Cruz super PAC called Keep the Promise I, making him practically the sole funder.

That’s a pretty big investment.

But surprisingly, Keep the Promise I steered $500,000 to a super PAC backing Cruz rival Carly Fiorina — presumably at Mercer’s direction, and possibly a sign that were Cruz to falter or withdraw, Mercer could direct the super PAC elsewhere.

On top of that, Mercer wrote a $250,000 check to Believe Again, a super PAC supporting Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s Republican presidential bid.

Then there’s former Univision CEO Jerry Perenchio, who was the biggest donor to the super PAC backing Fiorina, who gave nearly $1.6 million. He also gave $100,000 to the pro-Bush Right to Rise USA super PAC.

Meanwhile, Robert McNair, the billionaire owner of the NFL’s Houston Texans, donated $500,000 apiece to super PACs backing Republicans Bush, Cruz, Walker and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

An investment firm tied to Manoj Bhargava, the politically active founder of beverage company 5-hour Energy, similarly placed multiple six-figure bets on super PACs supporting three GOP presidential candidates, all governors.

The company, called ETC Capital LLC, gave $150,000 to America Leads, a super PAC backing New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, $150,000 to the Unintimidated PAC, which supports Walker, and $100,000 to the pro-Jindal Believe Again super PAC.

Bhargava’s investment firm was among the top five donors last year to the Republican Governors Association, so it’s perhaps not surprising that the firm would back three current Republican governors seeking the White House, two of whom — Christie and Jindal — are past RGA chairs.

Even Marlene Ricketts, the matriarch of the family that owns the Chicago Cubs baseball team and the mother of Walker’s campaign finance chairman, Todd Ricketts, spread her money around.

She donated $10,000 each to groups backing Bush, Christie, Cruz, Graham, Perry and Rubio.

But her largest donation — $4.9 million — went to Walker’s Unintimidated PAC, representing a quarter of the super PAC’s take.

Working closer with candidates

Bradley Crate, chief financial officer for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, said that four years ago, super PAC leaders proceeded with a measure of caution, afraid of violating laws that restricted how they interfaced with political candidates.

Today, such fears have largely dissipated, with the ideologically gridlocked Federal Election Commission often unable to agree on how to interpret and regulate the most basic of election law matters.

This gives super PACs the opportunity to work more intimately with candidates. Some are even absorbing many of the responsibilities traditionally reserved for a candidate’s own campaign, said Crate, now president of Red Curve Solutions, a Massachusetts-based campaign finance consulting firm.

“That’s what I would do,” he said.

Alex Cohen and Chris Zubak-Skees contributed to this report.

This story is from The Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative news organization in Washington, D.C. To read more of their reporters’ work, go here or follow them on Twitter.

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