Bush, Clinton dominate early 2016 presidential fundraising

July 15, 2015
Bush's report shows he's the biggest donor to his own campaign.  (AP)

Bush’s report shows he’s the biggest donor to his own campaign. (AP)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The two presidential candidates whose immediate families include former presidents loom large in early fundraising for 2016.

Hillary Rodham Clinton and Jeb Bush account for almost half the roughly $390 million that presidential groups for all the expected 22 candidates say they’ve raised. Most campaigns, including Clinton’s and Bush’s, were required to file their initial reports with the Federal Election Commission by midnight Wednesday.

Bush’s report shows he’s the biggest donor to his own campaign. The former Florida governor paid for $388,720 in services such as legal and strategic consulting to get his bid rolling. His campaign had about $8.4 million left in the bank at the end of June.

The FEC reports cover financial activity between April 1 and June 30 and list the names of everyone who gave at least $200. The maximum contribution for the primary is $2,700. The FEC reports also show how candidates are spending their money — on consultants, office space, advertising, polling and more.

Wednesday’s reports provide only a glimpse of all the money that donors are handing over. The candidates also benefit from super PACs created specifically to help them. Those groups, which accept contributions of any size and are subject to legal limits on how closely they can work with the campaigns, file their FEC reports at the end of the month.

Ahead of the deadlines, many candidates and their super PAC boosters have publicized their fundraising totals.

The AP tallied those numbers, as well as FEC reports arriving Wednesday, and found that donors have handed over nearly $400 million — more than two-thirds of it to outside groups rather than to official campaigns. That total is more than the presidential candidates raised for the entire primary election of 2000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a group that tracks election spending.

Dominating the cash haul are Clinton and Bush.

Clinton, the Democratic front-runner, has raised $45 million in checks of $2,700 or less for her campaign. Priorities USA Action, a super PAC that counts on seven-figure donors, raised an additional $15 million.

Bush’s money looks different. Before he officially declared his candidacy, he spent the first six months of the year raising huge sums of money for Right to Rise, a super PAC that’s boosting his bid to win the Republican nomination. That group says it has raised a record $103 million. Bush’s presidential campaign, which began June 15, collected $11.5 million from contributors.

Outside groups are furthering the ambitions of at least four other Republican presidential aspirants: Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. In each case, the fundraising for the outside groups helping them is outpacing the fundraising for their own campaigns.

Rubio’s overall take from donors — $44.7 million to his campaign and two outside groups — includes $15.8 million for a nonprofit that won’t file any public budget information until at least next year and keeps its donors secret.

Wednesday’s filings shed light on how candidates are doing with small donors, defined as individuals who give $200 or less. On the other side of the spectrum, the end-of-July super PAC filings will provide a snapshot of who’s doing the best with the biggest donors, those writing six-figure checks or more.

Small donors are underwriting Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, FEC reports show, accounting for more than three-quarters of the $13.7 million in contributions he collected. Sanders also transferred $1.5 million from his dormant Senate campaign account.

By comparison, 3 percent of Bush’s campaign cash came from small donors.

Also doing well on the small-donor front is Republican retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, whose campaign said it built up most of its $10.4 million by tapping grassroots enthusiasm. Because the money is coming directly to Carson and Sanders, they have tighter control over how it is used.

A few major Republican candidates will be missing from the initial campaign finance reports. Kasich, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie made their campaigns official too recently to file second-quarter FEC reports, although a Christie-allied super PAC said on Tuesday that it has raised $11 million. The first look at their campaign numbers will come in mid-October.