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5 Things We've Learned About 2016 Presidential Fundraising

Hillary Clinton's campaign managed to far out-fundraise all 2016 contenders in either party.
Ed Zurga
Getty Images
Hillary Clinton's campaign managed to far out-fundraise all 2016 contenders in either party.

The first major campaign finance data dump of the 2016 presidential race is in, offering a look into how the candidates are raising and spending money. With second-quarter disclosures due at midnight July 15, most campaigns released their figures late Wednesday and into the evening.

Already, just a few months into the race, the figures tell a few clear stories: Hillary Clinton is amassing a huge war chest, Republicans are getting some huge outside spending totals, and this campaign is going to be all about big spending. Here are the numbers and five things they tell us about fundraising and spending in the 2016 presidential race:

1. Hillary Clinton's campaign has far out-raised all the others.

Clinton's campaign has raised more than twice as much as any other campaign yet this cycle — $47.5 million. The next-highest-raising campaigns thus far in the 2016 cycle are Republican Marco Rubio ($19.6 million), Clinton's chief Democratic rival, Bernie Sanders ($15.2 million), and Republican Ted Cruz ($14.3 million). This puts the Clinton campaign's fundraising roughly on pace with Obama's $46.2 million raised at this point in the 2012 race.

Here's how the rest of the major candidates fared:

Of course, different candidates have been in the race for different lengths of time. Cruz, for example, announced in March, months before, for example, Bobby Jindal, who announced in June.

One statistic to watch closely in these early months is how much of their money the campaigns have spent already. Donald Trump, for example, has already spent 74 percent of his total receipts. Rick Santorum, Rick Perry, Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee have likewise all spent more than half of their total money raised thus far. Burning through a lot of money fast could help candidates get attention early on, but it could be tough to sustain over a long campaign.

2. SuperPAC donations totally change the game.

OK, technically this is something we learned not only from the FEC filings but from candidates and their superPACs themselves.

Unlike the campaigns, the superPACs supporting individual candidates did not have FEC reports due today. But some campaigns have released numbers on the gargantuan totals some of those outside groups have brought in. A look at a few of those shows just how much of a game-changer that outside money can be, especially for the candidates whose campaigns are already the most successful fundraisers. Jeb Bush's Right to Rise superPAC, for example, has reported that it raised $103 million, which means Bush has $114 million in his corner — 10 times the $11.4 million his campaign raised, and enough to dwarf the total raised by the Clinton campaign plus the $15.6 million her Priorities USA PAC has reportedly raised.

These superPACs aren't constrained by donation limits (like campaigns are) and can still run ads in support of particular candidates. One trade-off is that they are not allowed to give money directly to campaigns, nor are they allowed to coordinate their efforts with political campaigns.

But that doesn't mean they're run by outsiders. Take Clinton's main superPAC, for instance — it's run by Guy Cecil, who was her 2008 campaign political director. Likewise, strategist Mike Murphy, who has worked with Jeb Bush since the 1990s, is running Bush's superPAC, Right to Rise.

One other thing to keep in mind: Even the superPACs and the campaign fundraising don't tell the full story on how much support a candidate has. Some candidates also have nonprofit groups known as 501(c)(4)s on their sides — groups that, unlike superPACs and campaigns, do not have to disclose their donors at all, as Washington Post's Matea Gold reports.

3. Ben Carson, Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders are the kings of small donors.

Candidates are fond of touting their totals of unitemized donations — FEC-speak for donations of less than $200 — as a measure of their grass-roots support. Thus far, the candidates who have taken in the largest share of their individual donation totals from these small donors are Sanders (76 percent), Carson (68 percent) and Paul (60 percent).

At the other end of the spectrum is Bush, who only received 3.4 percent of his individual contributions from those small donors. In fact, he spent more of his own money on his campaign than these small donors did.

For her part, Clinton's campaign had a relatively small share of unitemized donations, at around 17 percent.

4. It's going to be one huge-spending campaign.

Looking just at the major candidates (which we're defining here as the people who in the last quarter raised $100,000 or more, not counting self-funding), the total amount of spending on this election is already staggering: At this point in the 2012 cycle, these major candidates had taken in around $83 million. This time, it's around $138 million.

Of course, a part of this spike is that there are far more major candidates this time around — for example, 12 GOP candidates have raised more than $100,000 right now, compared with eight in the 2012 cycle. And on the Democrat side, there are three of these candidates this time (Lincoln Chafee doesn't make this cutoff, as he's largely self-funded right now). Last time on the Democrat side, of course, there was simply Obama.

Average it out, and the amount per candidate is around $9 million, roughly where it was last time. However, while candidates' slices of the fundraising pie may not have grown a lot on average, the total pie this time looks to be far bigger.

5) Does Donald Trump need donors?

Trump's campaign reported $1.4 million in receipts — not massive, but enough to beat out a few other GOP candidates, including Santorum and Jindal.

But the majority of that was a loan from Trump himself. His individual donation tallies are remarkably small. Only $92,000 of his $1.4 million came from individual contributors, and only $32,000 of that came via those small, unitemized contributions. To the extent that donations are a measure of support, this doesn't bode well for The Donald, despite the fact that he has outperformed many of his rivals in recent polls.

Fortunately, he has plenty of his own money, if his own figures are to be believed. In a Wednesday press release, Trump announced that he is worth $10 billion. In a race where Hillary Clinton is reportedly aiming for $2 billion in fundraising, Trump at the very least could keep pace with the top candidates on spending. The question then is whether he can keep pace in the rest of the election.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: July 16, 2015 at 12:00 AM EDT
This piece originally stated that Bernie Sanders' campaign was the second-place fundraiser thus far. While Sanders took in the second-most last quarter, Marco Rubio's campaign has in fact taken in more during this election cycle, counting the money he rolled in from his Senate committee. The chart has also been corrected to reflect Bush's total cash on hand at the end of the second quarter.
Danielle Kurtzleben is a political correspondent assigned to NPR's Washington Desk. She appears on NPR shows, writes for the web, and is a regular on The NPR Politics Podcast. She is covering the 2020 presidential election, with particular focuses on on economic policy and gender politics.