The deadline for campaigns to report their 2015 fund-raising totals to the Federal Election Commission is Sunday
This will be the first time in six months to find out what super PACs have raised and spent
Campaigns and their allied super PACs on Sunday will unveil for the first time in months how much cash they’ve raised, signaling how much staying power they have in the race for the White House.
The big reveal at this point in the race: cash on hand, which tells observers how much money the political action committees have to spend in states beyond Iowa and New Hampshire – and whether they can run a national campaign. Just as a poor showing in the early-voting states may help winnow the presidential field, a poor fundraising performance will get the vultures circling.
This is also the first chance in six months to find out who has been paying for the tens of millions of dollars of super PAC ads that have blanketed the country. The groups can accept and spend unlimited amounts of cash, but federal election rules means we haven’t seen the donor rolls since midsummer.
Here are eight questions that could be answered this weekend:
How much is Donald Trump spending on his own behalf?
There have been few claims more fact-checked – and unambiguously deemed incorrect – than Trump’s frequent claim that he is “self-funding” his campaign. It means that he is free from the corrupting influence of lobbyists and billionaires who treat their candidate as “puppets” – but the claim as of October was not true: Trump has received millions of dollars in donations that are funding things like Trump hats and Trump T-shirts.
But Trump’s spending has increased substantially since then – he has launched a modest television campaign in early-voting states, and his campaign travel intensified in 2015’s closing months. So how much has Trump, who claims to have a net worth of $10 billion, actually invested into his political campaign? We’ll see Sunday.
Is Hillary Clinton in trouble?
Hillary Clinton’s campaign says it had $38 million on hand as of the end of 2015, and touted that it raised $37 million in primary dollars as it fights a surprising challenge from Bernie Sanders.
But Clinton’s biggest advantage over the Vermont senator was supposed to be in super PACs, and Priorities USA on Friday night said it’s raised $50 million through this month. The group also claims an additional $42 million in pledges. How much the super PACs are able to back Clinton this year will determine whether or not she can win the White House.
How many people are Feeling the Bern?
Sanders’ campaign has said it had about $28 million on hand at the end of 2015 and raised $33 million in the final months.
But the big number his campaign will tout is the total number of small donors who have bought into his insurgent campaign. Sanders has likely raised much more of his money from low-dollar donors who gave less than $200, unlike Clinton, who has relied typically on high-dollar and time-consuming fund-raising events for much of her hauls. Watch for Sanders to tout his broad reach and continue his rhetoric against the big donors favoring Clinton.
Have the conservative megadonors placed their bets?
Republican donors, confronted by a field of unprecedented size and depth, largely avoided committing to a single candidate in the first half of the year, a CNN analysis of super PAC donations found last July. The nation’s top GOP moneymen gave to multiple candidates, or none at all, largely avoiding placing seven-digit donations on a single candidate as they waited for a dose of political clarity.
The field has indeed winnowed since July, with five candidates dropping out. But there are still at least four candidates with significant appeal to establishment donors. Have any of those successfully wooed top donors more than any other? Of particular interest: Sheldon Adelson, who is believed to be most supportive of Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. Will their super PACs post million-dollar checks from the nation’s top Republican donor? And have the Ricketts family, which previously backed Scott Walker, decided on a single candidate to support?
Have donors abandoned Jeb Bush?
The super PAC supporting Jeb Bush, Right to Rise, shattered fund-raising records by collecting $100 million in the first six months of 2015. That was in the golden age of Jeb.
Now, having lost significant support in the Republican horse race, the question is how much firepower Bush has remaining. The Washington Post reported that he had only raised an an additional $13 million as of December. Has he been able to attract any new top donors, or is it the same crew – most of whom did not invest more than $1 million in his super PAC – doubling down?
If Bush is able to still haul in a not-insignificant fraction of his previous sum, it will be easier to imagine him staying in the race through March, even if it does not cement a path to victory.
What are Ted Cruz’s super PACs up to?
Forgotten in Cruz’s rise to the top of Iowa polls is that it came largely without any advertising by his campaign and super PAC, who have hugged their money closely and been only wiling to spend big on television at the open of 2016. That has even invited some criticism, from both within and outside the campaign, of why his super PACs have been so stingy.
So Keep the Promise, the constellation of Cruz super PACs, are likely to still have much of the $38 million they reported at the end of July. Yet how broad is their financial base? Almost all of that money came from three anchor families who gave at least $10 million, and it’s unknown how many new big donors they’ve brought into the fold. And we’ll also learn more about Stand for Truth, a rival pro-Cruz super PAC started by a top Cruz bundler but whose funders and strategy is largely mysterious.
How dependent are John Kasich and Chris Christie on New Hampshire?
One of the surprising takeaways from the last fundraising report in October was how cash poor the Kasich and Christie campaigns are. Both governors are staking their candidacies on New Hampshire, and their super PACs and campaigns over the past four weeks have unloaded a torrent of attacks meant to push them on top of the establishment heap in the state and propel them toward the nomination.
But neither Kasich nor Christie have deep organizations beyond the Granite State, and their financial positions on Sunday will show just how much they need to catch lightning in a bottle there on Feb. 9, or whether their time is up.
Does Ben Carson have anything left?
The retired neurosurgeon has shown the ability to raise a lot of cash, and his campaign collected $23 million in the fourth quarter, they said weeks ago. But how much of that is still in the bank?
Carson raises most of his cash through the expensive process of low-dollar prospecting – reaching out to large numbers of Americans through direct mail and email to learn if they would like to give. Carson likely is still in a solid financial position, but given the implosion of his campaign over the past few months, it will be revealing to see if his fund-raising machine slowed and whether his cash on hand figure reflects those troubles.