The Buying of the Presidency

67 donors and gusher of cash change 2016 race – Theodoric Meyer

The 67 biggest donors, each of whom gave $1 million or more, donated more than three times as much as the 508,000 smallest donors combined, according to a POLITICO analysis of reports filed with the Federal Election Commission and the Internal Revenue Service.

The 67 mega-donors accounted for $128 million in cash to super PACs supporting specific 2016 presidential candidates. In all, POLITICO’s analysis found that 29 super PACS and other big-money non-profits dedicated to the candidates combined to raise $271 million from 9,500 donors, for an average donation of $29,000.

On the ledger’s other side, the analysis found that donors who gave $200 or less to the candidates’ campaigns (and whose donations are estimated at $75 each) combined to donate $38 million to the campaigns of the 21 announced candidates.

The analysis highlights tactical challenges not faced by past presidential campaigns – namely how to spend all of that cash efficiently and legally, given rules intended to wall off candidates and their campaigns from big-money groups.

“I don’t see any election that’s remotely like this historically with the concentration at the top,” said Michael Malbin, who founded the Campaign Finance Institute and has been studying campaign funding for more than three decades. “There is a lure to getting your money in big chunks. It comes more quickly and more easily.”

The super PAC money, Malbin said, “is less efficient, but there is a lot more of it. So – having more of less efficient money – maybe that works out in the end.”

In fact, some big-money groups are working with lawyers to expand the role of super PACs beyond their traditional advertising function, including pioneering new ways to work closely with their allied campaigns.

But most of the recently filed FEC reports reflect relatively little big-money spending so far. The 29 super PACs and big-money non-profits in POLITICO’s analysis spent only $28 million in the first half of the year, leaving them with more than $230 million in the bank, according to the filings.

The deluge of super PAC cash into the presidential campaign is not good for democracy, argued David Donnelly, president and CEO of Every Voice, a nonprofit that hopes to reduce the role of big money in politics.

“It already has turned off voters, because it shows that elections are not about regular people. It creates a barrier between elected officials and regular people,” Donnelly said. “And what voters are expecting to get now – which is a year and a half of negative advertising – does not make them excited about the prospects of this presidential race.”

The big money also discourages small donors, Donnelly said, pointing out 2014 was the first midterm election in which fewer overall donors contributed than in the previous midterm.

“That’s the impact of people who are giving a few bucks here and there seeing that candidates only care about the large checks,” he said.

That doesn’t make sense to California donor Rob Arnott, who has already written checks to super PACs backing Sens. Rand Paul and Marco Rubio, and Minnesota media billionaire Stan Hubbard, a GOP mega-donor.

“Nothing has really changed,” Arnott said. “More in superPACs, less in campaign contributions? Campaign costs are up every cycle, but aggregate costs don’t seem to change much as a percentage of GDP. It’s like squeezing a water balloon; if one side is squeezed, the other grows.”

By comparison, Hubbard said, “I’m just a cheapskate,” though he said his family intended to donate more if Walker continues to perform well.

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