The Hippo


Jul 22, 2019








Illustration by Tony Luongo

What’s a super PAC?

Super PACs (political action committees) came into being in 2010 when the U.S. Supreme Court overruled the D.C. District Court ruling that Citizens United, a conservative lobbying group, couldn’t air a film critical of Hillary Clinton because it would violate campaign finance law.
Suddenly, money could come from for-profit and nonprofit corporations and unions with no contribution limits that could be spent on electioneering communications that backed or attacked specific candidates.
But super PACs could not directly coordinate with a candidate’s campaign because these ad buys and mailers are classified as “independent expenditures.”
Some super PACs were created by individuals connected with a candidate and they coordinate to some extent before the candidate officially declares. These are the “official” or flagship PACs for a candidate, while other PACs representing interest groups can also decide to back certain candidates.
There are also organizations called 501(c)4s, or “dark money groups” colloquially, that can attract unlimited donations from donors whose identities can remain anonymous, but they can only spend money on communications that advocate or attack specific issues, not candidates. However, many have pushed the envelope in this regard.
WMUR ad buys
When a presidential candidate’s campaign directly buys ad time on TV, it counts as a presidential ad, but when super PACs buy ads, they are referred to as “non-candidate issue ads” even when they prominently feature the candidate the PAC supports or one it’s attacking. They maintain their legal status by avoiding phrases like “vote for me” or other direct entreaties for support. Candidate ads can say those things and you can often spot them if they have the candidate saying, “I’m Candidate X, and I approve this message.” The information below was extracted from FCC filings.
Jeb Bush 
Campaign: $385,972.25 for 677 spots
Super PAC: $1,700,637.50 for 488 spots
Hillary Clinton 
Campaign: $736,270.50 for 1,249 spots
Bernie Sanders
Campaign: $1,028,836.25 for 1,869 spots
Who’s raised what
Hillary Clinton
Super PAC Priorities USA Action: $15.6 million
Campaign: $77.4 million
Jeb Bush
Super PAC Right to Rise USA: $103.2 million
Campaign: $24.8 million
Ted Cruz
Super PAC Keep the Promise: $37.8 million
Campaign: $26.5 million
Marco Rubio
Super PAC Conservative Solutions USA: $16 million
Campaign: $15.5 million
Chris Christie
Super PAC America Leads: $11 million
Campaign: $4.2 million
John Kasich
Super PAC New Day for America: ($11 million)*
Campaign: $4.3 million
Donald Trump
Super PAC Patriots for Trump: $131,623
Campaign: $5.8 million
Carly Fiorina
Super PAC CARLY for America Cmte: $3.4 million
Campaign: $8.4 million
Source: Center for Responsive Politics. *Reported by super PAC.

The Cash Race
Different ways candidates are funding their way to the finish line

By Ryan Lessard

 This could be called the election of the super PAC, with $205 million raised so far (half of what it costs to launch a NASA space shuttle) in support of about 10 candidates. But PACs aren’t the only way to build a war chest. While more money has been raised in Jeb Bush’s PAC than in his official campaign, Hillary Clinton’s campaign coffers are still five times as full as her super PAC’s. 

And other candidates are ignoring super PACs altogether — Bernie Sanders is batting away PACs trying to support him like fruit flies and billionaire Donald Trump doesn’t need any outside money.
Tradition and revolution
Information about money raised and spent by presidential candidates and outside groups like PACs comes from a hodgepodge of Federal Election Commission filings, Internal Revenue Service reports, Federal Communications Commission disclosures and news releases. To complicate things further, the FEC filings for candidates and super PACs have different deadlines, so official receipts and expenditures for campaigns go through September, while the most complete super PAC info (from the mid-year reports) goes through June 30. The next deadline for super PAC filings is Jan. 31, which will be the end-of-year report. 
Here’s what we know so far.
By analyzing FEC filings, the Des Moines Register found that super PACs have been spending more in New Hampshire than in Iowa. By late December, they had spent a collective $36.4 million in the Granite State and $26.6 in Iowa.
The top Democrats in the race, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, have both raised impressive amounts of money so far, but they’ve done so through mostly traditional means. 
Clinton’s campaign has raised more than three times the money her super PAC has raised. 
Dante Scala, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire, says she may be relying more on her campaign organization than her super PAC because of the amount of control it affords.
“They may have different ideas on how to help the candidates than maybe the campaign does,” Scala said. “That advantage [from super PACs], in terms of ease of fundraising, you’re making a lot fewer calls to raise the same amount of money. You’re doing a lot fewer fundraisers to raise the same amount of money. But you are giving up control.”
Sanders has raised more than $41 million for his campaign, but when it comes to super PACs, he says ‘no, thank you.’ The Vermont senator who got elected as an independent has made big money in politics one of his major lightning rod issues in this primary and accepting money from a super PAC — a symbol of the system he wants to destroy — would be politically counterproductive. Still, that hasn’t kept some enthusiastic supporters from trying to back him with super PACs. One PAC, called Bet on Bernie 2016, was the target of a cease and desist order by the Sanders campaign. But he’s been more forgiving of assistance from National Nurses United, a union PAC. 
Party with the most cake
Compared to this same point in the 2012 election cycle, which saw $15.4 million raised from unlimited donations, according to the New York Times, the 2016 election cycle has blown that figure out of the water. So far this election cycle, super PACs raised about $205 million, about half of the overall funds raised. Of that, the Center for Responsive Politics reports about $152 million has been spent already.
Republicans have, by far, raised the most super PAC money. 
And several Republican candidates are relying on their super PACs, which have raised more money than some of their campaigns, for advertising spending.
“On the Republican side, you’ve seen super PACs for Chris Christie, for John Kasich, for Jeb Bush, for Marco Rubio, all play a very large role in advertisement. And in the case of Carly Fiorina, they’ve had a very big organizational role,” said Scala.
The largest super PAC in terms of dollars raised is Right to Rise USA, the PAC backing Jeb Bush. It has single-handedly raised more than $103 million according to the last filing, which includes receipts through June 30. His campaign organization has less than a quarter of that in funds raised through Sept. 30. 
No other super PAC comes close in size but, similar to Bush, the super PACs for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Ohio Gov. John Kasich have raised more money than their candidate's respective campaign organizations.
Scala says super PACs can take on a more adversarial role than campaigns.
“In Rubio’s case, you have Conservative Solutions PAC hitting Christie hard on TV and in direct mail to people’s homes, hitting Christie hard on his record in New Jersey. That frees up Rubio to give the pitch to voters which would be more positive,” Scala said. “They are kinda like the ‘bad cops’ of the campaign cycle.”
This happened recently as Kasich has been gaining traction in New Hampshire. In response, Right to Rise released an ad criticizing Kasich’s tenure as governor. The Kasich campaign released a subsequent ad highlighting Bush’s so-far mediocre performance in the race.
Making it rain
Republican strategist Tom Rath — who is working as an operative for the Kasich campaign — says political spending in New Hampshire breaks records every four years. 
“All told, all in, I’d bet you there’s at least about $100 million spent here,” Rath said about spending in the 2016 cycle.
Ad spending by Republican PACs has been particularly high. 
“I think they’ve only deepened their role in terms of advertizing … this time,” Scala said.
Kasich’s New Day for America, which reportedly raised $11 million between April 20 and June 30, has already spent more than $5.2 million in pro-Kasich ads, at least $4 million of which was for spots to air on New Hampshire and Boston TV and radio stations. The super PAC didn’t report any funds during the last FEC filing because it raised money as a 527 organization until it transformed into a super PAC in late July.  
Bush’s PAC has already spent more than $64 million overall. The New York Times reported Right to Rise set aside $22 million for ads in New Hampshire, $6.6 million in Iowa and $8.3 in South Carolina. This followed the announcement by the Bush campaign that it would put most of its early state eggs in the Granite State basket. 
“That’s an example of implicit coordination which stays within the boundaries of the rules. Clearly, Jeb Bush’s campaign itself is focused on New Hampshire, not Iowa. So, even though a super PAC and a campaign might not talk to each other, it’s fairly clear from the campaign’s decisions where the super PAC should spend its money,” Scala said. “You don’t need a conversation in order for a super PAC to figure out how it can be most helpful.”
The second-largest pile of outside money backing a candidate, according to the most recent FEC filing data, is in the hands of four super PACs named Keep the Promise, Keep the Promise I, Keep the Promise II and Keep the Promise III. They are all backing Cruz and have raised $38.6 million collectively. A source told the National Review that the separate PACs are likely reserved for different purposes so large donors can ensure their money goes exactly where they want it to go.
Christie’s PAC, America Leads, has raised at least $11 million as of the latest filing but has already spent nearly $14 million (expenditure data is more up to date).
Most of these PACs are manned by a centralized national team, says Scala, even if they spend most of their money on the New Hampshire primary.
“We are certainly seeing Christie and Kasich concentrating their money in New Hampshire,” Scala said.
The only candidate-backing super PACs to buy ad time on WMUR are those supporting Christie, Kasich, Rubio and Bush. The same candidates’ campaigns also paid for ads on the TV station, along with Cruz and Trump. 
While Clinton’s campaign has spent nearly three quarters of a million dollars on WMUR ads, Clinton’s super PAC appears to be relying more on digital ads with a $1.5 million campaign attacking Republican candidates on sites like Facebook and Twitter. 
But there are some exceptions to the rule. Carly Fiorina, the tech executive who’s never held elective office, has allowed her super PAC, CARLY for America, to take on much of the role traditionally reserved for local campaign staff. 
“Fiorina is an extreme example and that’s out of necessity because they’re just not running a top-tier campaign like others are, like Bush and Rubio and Kasich and so forth,” Scala said. “It’s not much of a campaign organization. They’re not running ads now.”
The PAC is present at events headlined by Fiorina, something it is able to plan for since the campaign posts its events in a public Google calendar the PAC can easily track. PAC staff sets up tables and sign-in sheets and hangs banners with the CARLY logo, which looks almost identical to the campaign logo.
Audrey Scagnelli, the spokesperson for CARLY for America, says they have 12 staffers in New Hampshire and another 12 in Iowa.
It’s not uncommon for a PAC to get a head start on a campaign before a candidate declares with fundraising and organization-building, but after the candidate throws their hat in officially, much of the local staff often moves from the PAC to the campaign. This happened with Pataki’s campaign and Bush’s. 
The 2016 Committee super PAC, which backed retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, had a local staff of New Hampshire conservatives but, earlier this month, all five of them including its leader defected to volunteer for Cruz, citing electability concerns.
The greatest irony in the race has been just how little effect the Bush money machine has had on voters while the richest candidate, Donald Trump, has spent only about $5.5 million so far and only released a couple ads this month but has enjoyed a top spot in most polls. Trump has received a lot of free media riding on the power of his celebrity.
While Trump has no fewer than 10 super PACs ostensibly backing him, only one, Patriots for Trump, raised money before June 30. And even then, it had only $131,623. Trump began this race by self-funding his campaign to the tune of $1.9 million but later raised $3.7 million in unsolicited and mostly small donations, to which he added $100,000 of his own money.
Rath says having the most money isn’t everything.
“You don’t have to have as much as the other guy but you have to have enough to be effective,” Rath said.
Do PACs make a difference?
“Even in the age of super PACs, the old adage is true that money alone doesn’t solve all of a campaign’s problems. Right to Rise has been spending money in New Hampshire for months and months now, and it hasn’t thus far paid off,” Scala said. “With just three and a half weeks to go, Bush is floundering.”
A recent poll by the American Research Group shows Bush trailing in sixth place with 8 percent of likely GOP voters in New Hampshire. 
Rath says Bush’s PAC raising so much money and so early had been intended for more than what it can buy.
“Beyond the reality of the money, there was hope of a political impact, which was to chill the field around him and give him a kind of cloak of inevitability. That really didn’t occur,” Rath said. 
In general, Rath says super PACs are best positioned to mobilize money for media rather than day-to-day campaign operations.
“It buys a lot of television ads. There’s no question about that. And I suspect it buys a lot of mailers. But in terms of day-to-day usefulness on the ground, it’s limited,” Rath said.
He uses the Kasich campaign as an example, which he says has a very traditional fundraising and ground game operation.
“We’re running three or four events a day. Those have all got to be advanced. Many places, you have to pay for the use of the hall. Then you’ve got to get people there early. You’ve got a sound system at every event. … The event’s got to be produced. It’s got to have a certain look and feel and you’ve got to have materials there in terms of signs, stickers and all kinds of things,” Rath said.
Whether the increased ad spending makes a difference in changing the minds of voters or not, super PACs may largely be to blame for why so many candidates are still in the race at this point in the cycle. Scala says candidates like Christie are held afloat by PAC money.
“He started the campaign under a cloud, probably would have had difficulties raising money the old-fashioned way … but the fact that he had, I imagine, some wealthy donors in his corner, he could fund his campaign and at least get as far as he has so far,” Scala said. “I don’t know that some of these candidates would even be approaching the starting line in Iowa if it weren’t for the super PACs.”
Plus, the ease of raising money with no contribution limits means a candidate needs to make fewer phone calls and fewer trips to the money centers of the country and can focus instead on old-fashioned retail politics in New Hampshire.
Still, we only have a partial picture of how much money super PACs have raised so far. The next FEC filing deadline is Jan. 31. Perhaps then, we’ll know if there’s enough for that shuttle launch. 

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