The 2016 Presidential Contenders Have Spent $1 Billion

8 minute read

It’s official: The 2016 presidential election is already a 10-figure affair.

Household names such as Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz account for much of this spending. But a gaggle of obscure and moneyed super PACs have likewise helped rocket campaign expenditures to mesospheric levels — ones unthinkable even four years ago.

Here’s a rundown of the more telling — and curious — statistics to emerge from a new round of political campaign disclosures:

$1 billion: Amount spent by presidential candidates and affiliated groups in the 2016 presidential race through March, according to a Center for Public Integrity review of federal campaign finance filings. Nearly two-thirds of this figure has been spent in the contentious GOP primary, which saw more than a dozen candidates vie for the party’s nomination. The top-spending Republican? Cruz, who has spent more than $70 million. Meanwhile, Democrats Clinton and Sanders have combined to spend about $326 million, with each spending about half that sum.

$118 million: Amount Sanders raised, through March 31, from small-dollar donors giving $200 or less. That sum represents nearly two-thirds of his overall haul. Sanders’ unexpected fundraising prowess — he’s raised about $186 million, just $870,000 less than Clinton — has helped him stay competitive in the presidential primary. Small-dollar donors giving $200 or less only account for about 20 percent of Clinton’s receipts through March. She’s relied far more heavily on donors giving the legal maximum of $2,700. However, Clinton has a much wider lead in the delegate race than the fundraising race. She’s won about 25 percent more pledged delegates to date than Sanders and needs only about 450 more delegates to secure the nomination, according to the Associated Press.

$36.2 million: Amount Republican front-runner Trump has either donated or loaned to his presidential campaign from his own funds. A billionaire real estate tycoon and reality TV star, Trump has said he would spend up to $1 billion to win the White House “if necessary.” All the while, he’s also raised more than $12 million from people not named Trump. About three-fourths of that sum has come from small-dollar donors giving $200 or less.

$2.1 million: Amount Qualcomm Inc. executive Mark Epstein has donated to Maryland USA, the super PAC supporting his wife Amie Hoeber’s congressional bid. Hoeber, a Republican running in Maryland’s 6th Congressional District, has raised $480,000 for her race, including $350,000 that she’s loaned her campaign. Epstein’s contributions represent 99.95 percent of the money Maryland USA has raised.

$2 million: Amount spent by retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson’s campaign in March, even though Carson ended his presidential bid on March 4. It’s far less than the campaign spent in previous months, but some top campaign consultants (including Eleventy Marketing and Precision Data Management) still took in six-figure payments.

$1,055,100: What Democrat Willie Wilson is owed by his own presidential campaign, for which he filed termination paperwork Wednesday. Willie who, you say? Wilson is a Chicago businessman and gospel music show host who last year launched the longest of longshot presidential bids. His self-funded campaign didn’t go so well, as Williams failed to qualify for most primary and caucus contests. He did get on the South Carolina primary ballot, winning 0.35 percent of the Democratic vote.

$1 million: What oil giant Chevron Corp. donated in March to a super PAC called the Congressional Leadership Fund, which supports Republican candidates. Chevron, the second-largest oil company in the United States, is currently ranked as No. 3 on the Fortune 500 list, making it the largest known corporate super PAC donor. It’s rare for large, publicly traded companies to donate to super PACs, but Chevron has now donated $4.5 million to the Congressional Leadership Fund since 2012, plus an additional $1 million to the Senate Leadership Fund last year.

$402,000: Amount former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign reported making from the sale of his donor information following Bush’s February withdrawal from the presidential race. The buyer: direct response marketing firm the Lukens Company.

$131,679: How much the Trump campaign spent on hats during March with headwear manufacturer Cali Fame. A single red cap dubbed “5 Panel Patriot” retails for $15.50 on Cali Fame’s website. The seemingly same hat, with Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan embroidered on its front panel, sells for $25 on Trump’s website.

$100,000: Amount super PAC Freedom Partners Action Fund contributed to Accelerate West Virginia, a super PAC created to boost the gubernatorial bid of Republican state Senate President Bill Cole. The contribution is Accelerate West Virginia’s largest received so far. Freedom Partners Action Fund is one of a network of groups linked to billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch. Accelerate West Virginia describes itself as “a group of local West Virginians dedicated to moving our state forward.”

$72,290: Money Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s defunct presidential campaign owes Jones Day, a Washington, D.C., law firm, for “legal consulting.” It’s part of $952,256 in debt still on the Walker campaign’s books. Curiously, Jones Day employs former Federal Election Commission Chairman Don McGahn, who now serves as Trump’s general counsel. Walker last month endorsed Trump rival Cruz.

$72,000: Amount the Democratic National Committee paid pro-Clinton super PAC American Bridge 21st Century in March for “research services.” American Bridge 21st Century, which specializes in opposition research, raised about $3.1 million during the first three months of 2016, with major donors including billionaires George Soros and Phillip “Terry” Ragon. The super PAC has also collected $210,000 from its sister 501(c)(4) nonprofit — known as the American Bridge 21st Century Foundation, which doesn’t disclose its donors — in the form of “overhead and staff expenses.”

$50,000: Amount Laura Ricketts, a co-owner of the Chicago Cubs baseball team, donated in February to LPAC, a hybrid super PAC she helped launched in 2012 that seeks to “builds the political power of lesbians and queer women by electing candidates who champion LGBTQ rights, women’s equality and social justice.” Ricketts’ contribution accounted for about 20 percent of the LPAC’s receipts this year through March. The group has endorsed Clinton in the 2016 presidential race and also directly donated to Democratic U.S. Senate candidates Tammy Duckworth of Illinois and Donna Edwards of Maryland.

$44,000: Cash super PAC Pursuing America’s Greatness spent on legal and compliance costs in March. The group, which supported former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s unsuccessful bid for the Republican nomination, is engaged in a lawsuit challenging FEC regulations that prohibit the use of a candidate’s name by unauthorized committees such as super PACs.

7,194: Orders of hand-breaded onion ring towers one could buy for $50,000 at the Hard Rock Rocksino, an entertainment facility in suburban Cleveland featuring horse racing, casino gaming and eponymous chain restaurant fare. Fifty grand is also what the Hard Rock Rocksino contributed last month to New Day for America, a super PAC supporting Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s long-shot presidential bid. It clearly takes a gambler to place such a political bet: Bookmaker Paddy Power pegs Kasich’s odds of winning the Republican nomination at 14-to-1.

$2,500: How much Facebook’s political action committee friended Sen. Cory Gardner with on March 31. The contribution isn’t itself particularly odd. But Gardner, a Republican from Colorado, isn’t running for re-election in 2016. Or in 2018. He’ll likely face his next political contest in June 2020 — 50 months from now — when Colorado conducts a congressional primary ahead of elections for the 117th Congress. (The 114th Congress is currently seated.) Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., also received a four-years-early contribution from Facebook’s PAC.

$35: Price of getting “your name permanently displayed next to mine in the chairman’s lobby at GOP Headquarters,” writes former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in a fundraising message sent Wednesday on behalf of the Republican National Committee. If anyone needs cash, it’s Gingrich: As of March 31, his 2012 presidential campaign remained more than $4.6 million in debt, with more than 100 vendors among Newt 2012’s creditors — including Twitter, Comcast and a consulting company led by fellow 2012 presidential also-ran Herman Cain.

1: The number of things on which “Donald and Ted” say they stand together, according to a fundraising email from Stop Hillary PAC. That thing? Stopping Clinton from becoming president. How did Stop Hillary PAC, a scrappy conservative outfit perhaps best known for defying FEC orders to change its name, ever get Trump and Cruz to join forces? Simple: it didn’t. “Donald” is Donald Ferguson, the PAC’s political director, and “Ted” is Ted Harvey, its chairman. Might sending fundraising messages from a Ted and Donald — sans last names — cause potential donors to be misled, even a teeny, tiny bit? “Not to my knowledge, and that’s pretty far-fetched,” treasurer Dan Backer told the Center for Public Integrity, noting that both men have been signing Stop Hillary PAC missives since 2013. The PAC raised more than $130,000 during the first three months of 2016, mostly from small-dollar donors.

Alexander 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. Read more of its investigations on the influence of money in politics or follow it on Twitter.


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