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Eye On Candidates
July 16, 2015

Campaign Finance Reports Offer Clues to Campaign

Wednesday was the filing deadline for the 2016 presidential candidates to reveal their fundraising and spending details, and while the overall numbers are fairly easy to digest and understand (Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lead their respective parties’ contenders in money raised, for example), there are lots of details buried in each report that will take a few days for the media to find and report on their likely meaning for the campaign.

A few points are obvious. For example, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush may be in third place among Republicans in money raised for his campaign ($11.4 million to Cruz’s $14.3 million and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s $12.1 million, according to The Washington Post), but both senators have been in the race for several months raising money while Bush has only been an announced candidate (and able to legally raise campaign contributions) for a few weeks. Likewise, the independent super PAC supporting Bush is well ahead of his Republican rivals ($108 million to $37 million for Cruz and $33.1 million for Rubio, with former Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s independent backers bringing in $16.8 million).

There are a few articles that have begun to trickle out analyzing some of the less obvious details. For example, The Washington Post reports on the “burn rates” of several campaigns:

The so-called burn rate -- comparing money raised with money spent – showed [Donald] Trump in the lead, spending 74 percent of the campaign funds he has raised so far in his official campaign account….

[Ben] Carson, the Baltimore neurosurgeon, burned through 64 percent of the money he has raised to date, putting him close to Rick Santorum, who had a 62 percent burn rate, according to numbers filed Wednesday with the Federal Election Commission….

Typically candidates hold on to the funds they raise early in a campaign. But this year there is enormous pressure on candidates to maintain visibility and credibility in an unusually crowded GOP field….

The details of the spending provide information about each campaign’s focus and challenges. Trump’s funds were spent on travel and staff, not surprising for a candidate who just entered the race and is trying to quickly build a campaign infrastructure. That half a million of the $1.5 million spent went to private jet service might raise a few eyebrows, however. Carson and Santorum’s spending focused on fundraising, although it only appears to have paid off for one of the two:

This spending appears to have paid off in one way for Carson, who reported a large number of small donors. All told, Carson received $5.7 million from donors contributing less than $250 each….

Carson’s fundraising total came to $10.6 million, while Santorum brought in a little more than $600,000.

Another measure often looked at is a candidate’s ability to raise money from small-dollar donors, often seen as a sign of grassroots support. The New York Times reports on Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ success on this metric compared to Clinton:

Of the $47.5 million that Mrs. Clinton has raised, less than one-fifth has come from donations of $200 or less. That is a far smaller proportion than that of her Democratic and Republican rivals who have excited grass-roots donors on the left and right, such as Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Ted Cruz of Texas. While Mr. Sanders raised far less than Mrs. Clinton over all — about $15 million, including money transferred from his Senate account — about four-fifths of that amount came from smaller donors….

Some of Mrs. Clinton’s allies acknowledge that Mr. Sanders has done a better job of engaging small donors on the left. “The small donors right now are very much attracted to what Bernie is saying,” said Ed Rendell, a former Pennsylvania governor and a Clinton supporter….

Another metric Clinton appears to be falling short on is a comparison to what Democratic donors gave in the 2008 race by this same point in time:

Some Democrats privately said that Mrs. Clinton’s campaign fund-raising is less impressive than it appears. Aside from Martin O’Malley, the former Maryland governor, who reported raising $2 million for his campaign, Mrs. Clinton has no competition for the Democrats’ big-donor establishment, which handed out a combined $80 million to a crowded Democratic primary field during the equivalent fund-raising period in 2007, the last open primary.

The poor fundraising numbers of some may lead to a decision to leave the race or may further inhibit fundraising; potential donors might decide to ignore candidates struggling to raise money, assuming they are effectively eliminated from the campaign. Two to keep an eye on for this possibility might be former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee and former New York Gov. George Pataki, judging by this article from National Journal showing the pair bringing up the rear in fundraising:

Lincoln Chafee - Chafee did not have a very lucrative second quarter. He brought in $392,743—but less than $30,000 of that actually came from contributors. Almost the entirety of Chafee's fundraising, $363,694, came from his own pockets in the form of a candidate loan…. 

George Pataki - The Pataki campaign took in $256,000 and spent $48,000 since the former New York governor's campaign launch in late May. He was left with roughly $208,000 cash on hand at the close of the reporting period.

The campaign had about 150 individual donors…

The campaign finance filings tell a lot about the state of the race, and the coverage and analysis of those filings is worth paying attention to because it can actually help shape the race. Expect more analysis and repercussions from it over the coming days.