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If Jeb Bush's Campaign Is Cutting Spending, His SuperPAC May Prove Its Worth

The juggernaut that was supposed to be Jeb Bush's presidential campaign is looking smaller than predicted.

Bush's campaign says it raised $13.4 million in the third quarter. Campaign manager Danny Diaz noted the number is double the quarterly totals of Bush protege Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and businesswoman Carly Fiorina, who both lead Bush in polls.

But his total for July, August and September is up barely $2 million over the second quarter, when he spent just 16 days as an announced candidate collecting cash in late June. Bush's total falls far short of the nearly $21 million reported by retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson's campaign. Sen. Ted Cruz fell just short of matching Bush last quarter.

Bush's cash on hand is $10.3 million, up slightly from $8.4 million in July.

And instead of leading the field, as the juggernaut was planned to do, Bush is becalmed in the polls. RealClearPolitics.com puts him at 7.3 percent in an average of national polls for the Republican primary. Besides Rubio and Fiorina, Carson leads Bush by 11 points, billionaire Donald Trump by 17. Trump has said he's self-financing his campaign.

Fred Zeidman, a veteran Bush bundler in Texas, said the campaign is tightening its belt. "There's no money being spent in Texas right now," he said. But he emphasized, "I have not heard any sense of panic on the campaign" and hasn't "seen any serious downsizing" of staff.

The tough summer of fundraising may lead to a leaner campaign operation, as Politico reported Thursday. One option: spinning off some of the campaign's tasks to his superPAC, Right To Rise USA. Jeb 2016, as a campaign committee, can't take contributions greater than $2,700 per person. SuperPACs like Right To Rise USA have no contribution limits.

Right To Rise collected $103 million in the first half of 2015 — much of it raised by Bush himself last winter and spring, before he officially became a candidate. It won't file another financial disclosure until Jan. 31, the day before the Iowa caucuses.

A superPAC is officially independent of the candidate's committee, and there are rules against coordinating on messaging and strategy. Bush pushed the envelope with his early fundraising for Right To Rise. Now the superPAC is doing most of the high-priced TV advertising for him, with $24 million already committed in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

Two other candidates, Fiorina and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, are pushing into yet another gray area by regularly speaking at meetings and rallies organized by their superPACs.

And lawyers and consultants see still more tasks that could move from campaign to superPAC: expensive jobs such as microtargeting, motivating and turning out voters — or even soliciting the high-end $2,700 contributions for the campaign itself.

The Federal Election Commission allows outside groups to act as conduits for these regulated contributions. It also allows a candidate to attend superPAC events — the kind of contact that $2,700 donors expect.

"They want to meet the candidate," said campaign finance lawyer Stefan Passantino. "And they want a reception in a nice place." A superPAC could provide the invitation list, venue and refreshments.

It just couldn't send a limo for the candidate.

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

Peter Overby has covered Washington power, money, and influence since a foresighted NPR editor created the beat in 1994.