JULY 15, 2015
What Campaign Filings Won't Show: Super PACs' Growing Sway
By ERIC LICHTBLAU and NICHOLAS CONFESSORE
WASHINGTON -- Presidential contenders provided a glimpse inside their campaign war chests on Wednesday, releasing financial statements that offered the first detailed accounting of how the candidates were raising and spending hundreds of millions of dollars in pursuit of elected office.
The reports showed, for instance, that Jeb Bush has relied largely on wealthy donors giving the maximum contribution -- attracting far less financial support from more modest donors -- and that Rick Perry, Ben Carson and Rick Santorum are burning through the money they have raised much more quickly than most of their opponents.
Hillary Rodham Clinton raised the most money for the primary of any candidate, $46.7 million, while Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, running against Mrs. Clinton for the Democratic nomination, brought in $15 million, the vast majority of it from donors giving $200 or less.
But while the reports, filed with the Federal Election Commission, provided an early look at the campaigns' financial operations, they tell only part of the story; they did not include money being raised by the "super PACs" and other outside groups that are supporting many of the candidates.
The Republican presidential candidates are almost uniformly relying on these groups, which can tap unlimited corporate and individual contributions, to amass the financial firepower they need to break through a crowded field. This is a stark departure from past campaigns, and has made most of the candidates deeply reliant on a handful of ultra-wealthy donors.
"As long as there is an enormous advantage -- and it is literally enormous -- to raising money in super PACs instead of in hard money to campaigns, people are going to do what mathematically makes sense," said Newt Gingrich, whose 2012 presidential bid was bolstered by a well-funded super PAC.
Mr. Gingrich, who favors lifting the limit on contributions to candidates, said it was "not necessarily healthy for the country," in part because super PACs tended toward negative advertising.
"No one has any responsibility," Mr. Gingrich said. "When candidates have to say, 'I approve this ad,' you automatically temper the ad."
The new fund-raising model has already altered the landscape of a campaign that is still months away from the first votes.
Without super PACs, four Republicans -- Mr. Bush, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Mr. Carson -- would have raised roughly the same amount of money, $10 million to $12 million in the second quarter of 2015, according to the F.E.C. reports and previous announcements from the campaigns. A fifth candidate, Rand Paul, would be close behind, while several others, including Mr. Perry, would be trailing.
Instead, the field has rapidly separated into three financial tiers. Mr. Bush has raised about $114 million with the help of a super PAC. Mr. Cruz, Mr. Rubio and their super PACs occupy the next-highest tier, with each having raised more than $40 million.
Lagging them is the third tier, which includes several candidates who declared their bids near or after the end of the fund-raising quarter and others who have been slow to raise money.
More than any other candidate, Mr. Bush appears to be relying on the fund-raising power of his super PAC -- and $103 million in unlimited contributions it has collected -- to fuel his campaign.
Mr. Bush's report to the F.E.C. on Wednesday showed that he has had trouble attracting support from donors giving $200 or less -- a group considered a key measure of grass-roots enthusiasm for a campaign. Out of the $11.4 million Mr. Bush's campaign raised, only 3.3 percent came from these small donors, far less than what other candidates drew, and 81 percent came from wealthier donors making the maximum contribution of $2,700, the data showed. (Mr. Bush was his own biggest donor, contributing nearly $389,000 to his own campaign, the report showed.)
In comparison, Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor who is popular among many religious fundamentalists, reported Wednesday that nearly 30 percent of his $2 million in donations came from smaller donors.
Mr. Perry, who began his second presidential bid in June, provides another illustration of the growing gap between what the campaigns raise and what supporters can muster through super PACs.
A fund-raising powerhouse while Texas governor, he has not yet lived down his failed 2012 campaign, and many big GOP donors who supported him in the past have not yet flocked to get behind him for 2016.
He reported Wednesday that his campaign had raised about $1.1 million, and had already spent more than half the money on early campaign work. But a constellation of super PACs backing Mr. Perry brought in many times that amount from megadonors -- almost $12.8 million through the end of June, according to Austin Barbour, a senior adviser to the groups. Another $4 million check -- four times what Mr. Perry's campaign raised -- came in a few days later, he said.
More than half the group's total came from just two donors: Kelcy Warren, an energy company executive who is also the finance chairman of Mr. Perry's campaign, and Brint Ryan, a Dallas businessman.
The long-shot campaign of Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana offered yet another example of the increased reliance on super PACs. He reported Wednesday that his campaign had raised about $579,000,  putting him near in a trailing position among Republicans. But a super PAC supporting him has raised $3.7 million for his campaign, and a nonprofit aligned with him has raised another $4 million.
The outside money does not put him anywhere near the level reached by Mr. Bush and his super PAC -- but should help him survive for the next few months as he and other lower-tier rivals seek to raise their profiles.
On the Democratic side, the picture is the reverse. Mrs. Clinton, who is far outpacing her rivals on the fund-raising front, has raised almost four times as much as the super PAC supporting her candidacy. Her campaign reported on Wednesday raising about $46.7 million in contributions for the Democratic primary.
The 2016 campaign could prove to be the most expensive on record, with the candidates, political parties, super PACs and special-interest groups spending perhaps $10 billion under fund-raising rules made much looser by the United States Supreme Court's Citizens United decision in 2010. That ruling fueled the emergence of super PACs.
The early fund-raising hauls have already prompted complaints to the election commission and the Justice Department from citizen watchdog groups. One of them, the Campaign Legal Center, charges that Mr. Bush and other candidates skirted the law by raising large amounts of money before they officially declared their candidacies. Super PACs are not allowed to work in coordination with a candidate.
Paul S. Ryan, senior counsel for the watchdog group, said he would be looking at the filings to try to determine if the candidates had complied with the law.
"If not," Mr. Ryan said, "the Campaign Legal Center will be filing complaints."
Graphic: Which Presidential Candidates Are Winning the Money Race