Clinton and Trump raise money for presidential transition

Story highlights

  • Transitions are prescribed by law, and so is the fundraising
  • The transition teams rely almost exclusively on private donations for payroll and travel

Washington (CNN)Staffers for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are already working to plan their future administrations. But first, they are raising some cash.

Work is well underway for both camps' transitions. The lesser-known effort is typically separate from the actual campaign, and focuses on developing a plan for policies and staffing of a new administration. In fact, through the Presidential Transition Act of 1963, which has been updated by Congress over the years, transitions are prescribed by law.
And so is the fundraising.
    While the federal government allocates resources for candidates' transition teams ahead of the November general election, including office space and equipment, there isn't public money provided for payroll and travel expenses until after a candidate is declared president-elect.
    That means the transition teams rely almost exclusively on private donations for any efforts before ballots are cast.
    Both Clinton and Trump have already begun that effort.
    Trump's transition effort is helmed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who told financial services lobbyists and executives in Washington last week that the transition has set a goal of $2 million and is nearly halfway there, according to sources in the room. Another person familiar with the transition's fundraising operation separately relayed the same numbers to CNN.
    Former Republican candidate Mitt Romney raised nearly $4 million for his transition team, as did Barack Obama in 2008, but the Trump camp plans to have a "leaner" operation, Christie told the room, including with less staff. He included what was characterized as a "gentle" ask for donations in his presentation.
    Clinton has also begun the fundraising process, though it wasn't clear how much she had raised. A source familiar with their plans said the transition's goal is about $4 million.
    Both campaigns are raising hundreds of millions of dollars for their campaigns. Clinton raised more than $140 million in August alone through joint committees, and Trump's joint fundraising operation brought in $90 million in August.
    But transition funding is a separate pot, and subject to different laws. The transition teams set up separate, tax-exempt organizations known as 501(c)(4)s where the money can be raised. The limit per individual is $5,000, by law, and private donations are disclosed publicly.
    Before the 2012 cycle, all pre-election transition activity was privately funded -- including paying for office space, travel, supplies, and any personnel costs.
    In 2010, however, lawmakers determined candidates needed to have a more robust operation ahead of the election in order to prepare themselves to take the job on day one. They passed a bill mandating the federal government support pre-election transition efforts through federally-supplied workspace, supplies and travel costs.
    This year, Congress appropriated $13.7 million for pre-election transition efforts to be divided between the two campaigns through resources. Both have been set up with offices in the same building near the White House.
    But the federal government doesn't actually supply any actual cash, meaning payroll is entirely up to the transition teams to front.
    "To the extent they are doing anything that costs money -- paying for travel, paying for people -- they have to raise independently," said Max Stier, the president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service, the outside group that helps both transition teams prepare for a possible presidency.
    That means adequate transition fundraising directly correlates with the strength of the effort.
    "If they don't have the money, they're not going to be able to have the people to do this operation correctly," Stier said. Because the length of time spent working on a transition, many of the more senior people on the staffs end up working essentially as volunteers.
    Romney's transition effort raised $3.8 million. Some of that was spent before the election, but there were leftover funds when Romney lost.
    His transition team issued a $1,300 refund for every donor who gave the $5,000 maximum donation. A person involved in the effort said many of the donors reacted with surprise -- it was the first time they remember a political organization returning unused funds.
    Some of the money also went to producing a book of the transition effort, and some went to charity.
    When considering donors for the efforts, Stier said it's common for campaigns to approach people who have already contributed the maximum amount to the campaign itself. This provides another avenue for wealthy supporters to express backing for a candidate.
    He said transition fundraising efforts are a reflection of the transition process as a whole: an vitally important undertaking that both candidates should approach with urgency, even as the bulk of their time is spent actually campaigning for the job.
    "If you're a thoughtful candidate, you recognize this is going to be true not only in the campaign but when you're president. There are a lot of important things you don't have time to spend time on," he said. "That's why it's so important to have someone in charge you can trust to do an excellent job in running this operation, and who will be given the latitude to do so."