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How campaign fundraising — and spending — is being rewired for 2016

Wednesday was the deadline for presidential campaigns to declare how much money they’ve raised. However, those numbers don’t tell the full story, as outside political groups now raise the most money. Judy Woodruff speaks to Matea Gold of the Washington Post, and Sasha Issenberg of Bloomberg about what these numbers actually mean.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    In the presidential campaign world, this is a red letter day, or maybe we should say green money day. Yesterday was the deadline for presidential campaigns to declare how much they have raised.

    So far, when you talk about money raised for the presidential campaigns themselves, Hillary Clinton is out front by a lot. She is followed by fellow Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders and then Republicans Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush and Ben Carson.

    But those numbers don’t tell the full story. Thanks to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, outside political groups are on the rise and we are in unchartered territory when it comes to how much candidates raise and spend.

    Joining me now to untangle the 2016 fund-raising web so far are Matea Gold, who covers campaign finance for The Washington Post, and in San Francisco, Sasha Issenberg, who is a contributor to Bloomberg Politics and he’s the author of the book “The Victory Machine.”

    And we welcome you both back to the program.

    So, if you looked only at these numbers we were just showing, what the candidates themselves have raised, you get a very different picture than when you add in what these outside so-called super PAC committees have raised. So let’s take a look at those.

    And, Matea Gold, I want to ask you about it because you see here you have got some very different numbers when you add in both what Hillary Clinton raised, for example, with what she raised from the outside committee. At the top, though, is Jeb Bush. He raised $11 million as a candidate, but his total when you add in the super PACs, $119 million.

    Matea Gold, what’s happening here?

  • MATEA GOLD, The Washington Post:

    Well, I think what we’re really seeing is a fundamental rewiring of how political money is being raised at a national level.

    And the trend is really the most dramatic on the right. In the Republican field, nearly four out of five dollars raised to support the GOP contenders was raised through outside groups, rather through the campaigns themselves, and that is just a dramatic shift and something that’s really unprecedented.

    It’s not the same case on the Democratic side. For now, Hillary Clinton has a lot more in her campaign kitty than her allied super PAC. But we have a long ways to go and there’s no question that these outside groups are playing a more central and prominent role than we have ever seen before.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Matea Gold, staying with you.

    Who’s giving this big money and these donations to these outside committees and why is most of it going to Republicans?

  • MATEA GOLD:

    Well, Republicans have really taken the lead in pursuing this source of dollars. We don’t know all the donors of these groups yet because these organizations, those that do disclose don’t have to report their donors until the end of the month.

    But we already have some glimpses of the kind of resources they’re bringing to bear. Rick Perry has a supporter who wrote a $6 million check to a super PAC backing him. And so we’re sure to see a lot of seven- and eight-figure donations coming into these groups.

    And it really speaks to this expanding donor universe we’re seeing in politics now. And it’s not just your traditional campaign fund-raisers who are getting involved. It’s really multimillionaires and billionaires who have the ability to write these huge sums.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Sasha Issenberg, you have been looking at this phenomenon for a while. What is this money being spent for right now?

  • SASHA ISSENBERG, Bloomberg Politics:

    A lot of it is the traditional variety of campaign expenses, advertising on television, radio, online, field operations, opening offices, hiring staff in states, paying for voter contact with direct mail phones.

    The flip side for the story Matea tells about the rewiring of — the raising of money being divided between these two different entities, in many cases each supporting the same candidate, but being legally forbidden from directly coordinating their efforts, is that they’re now spending in parallel in ways that can’t coordinate their efforts.

    And so what we see is the different candidates have sort of structured the division of labor between their candidate campaign and their super PAC or their affiliated super PAC to take on different responsibilities. And so we can start to see the makings of what they want to keep within their own campaign operation and what they trust their super PAC to do, whether they want to run the bulk of their television ads or whether they’d like to see the outside group do it.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And, Sasha Issenberg, how is this way different from previous campaigns in the way candidates handle it, both the raising of money and the way they’re spending it?

  • SASHA ISSENBERG:

    Yes. It used to be that all the money that was raised in your name or for the cause of electing you president, you controlled.

    If we go back just eight years, basically, all of the money that was spent to elect Barack Obama was under the budgetary control of his campaign manager, David Plouffe. And so you could develop a strategy and a set of tactics that worked holistically to advance your interests. Now you need these sort of jerry-rigged operations.

    And in some cases, like in Jeb Bush’s world, it’s not just the candidate campaign and the super PAC, but there are other groups that exist in other parts of the tax code that are also spending money with the goal of helping to get him elected president, but who have various limitations on how they can work in tandem.

    And so what’s happening now is, as an organizational challenge, campaigns are needing to think very differently about how they divide what they do. And it becomes a lot more even of a planning challenge to figure out who’s going to spend the money, how and when, than it would have been previously.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Matea Gold, there is another story here in these numbers and that is how well some of these candidates are doing with small donations.

    I think we have got another graphic to show. Hillary Clinton, for example, in that $47 million she raised, 17 percent came from small donors. But here’s a real shock. Bernie Sanders raised $15 million, 76 percent of it from small donors. These are people who gave $200 or less.

  • MATEA GOLD:

    Right, and I think it actually probably is not surprising, if you look at the kind of response he’s getting on the ground in these rallies that are really teeming with people, often more than his campaign has the capacity to handle.

    That kind of organic reaction to a candidate drives online donations and we’re seeing him very effectively harness that enthusiasm. On the other end of the spectrum, Governor Jeb Bush has just a tiny fraction; 3 percent of the money he raised in his campaign committee came from small donors. That speaks to this challenge he faces really with the grassroots on the right and convincing them he’s the candidate to really take the charge and win the nomination.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, it’s fascinating. As we can see talking to both of you, there’s so much more here than just the numbers.

    Matea Gold, Sasha Issenberg, we thank you.

  • MATEA GOLD:

    My pleasure.

  • SASHA ISSENBERG:

    Thanks.

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