Washington — If there were any doubts about how drastically political fundraising has changed in the last five years, they were obliterated this past week as the presidential campaigns of Gov. Bobby Jindal and other contenders announced how much money they’ve raised for the 2016 election.
Not only have the totals increased to staggering proportions but the conduits for the vast majority of the money also are new.
Wednesday was the deadline for candidates to file reports with the Federal Election Commission detailing the getting and spending by their campaign committees in the April-June quarter. Five years ago, even three years ago, those reports would have provided a critical indication of financial standing.
But this year, the more significant — and much bigger — numbers didn’t show up in the FEC reports. The campaign committee income is dwarfed by the amounts raised by the single-candidate super political action committees and other independent outside groups backing the respective contenders. Most campaigns, including Jindal’s, have disclosed those overall amounts, although the groups’ federal reports are not due until July 31, for the most part.
Jindal provides a case in point. His campaign committee took in $579,000 in the quarter, an amount described as “a meager sum” by The Washington Post and “paltry” by The Hill political news outlet (which seems a little harsh, given that he didn’t start accepting reportable campaign donations until mid-May).
But Jindal’s supporters say they have raised an additional $8.6 million, with that money flowing to groups outside his official campaign: the Believe Again single-candidate super PAC, the American Future Project and the America Next “social welfare” nonprofit.
Believe Again, organized in January, took in $3.7 million through June 30, the group’s Brad Todd said. American Future Project, organized later, raised $1 million, he said. America Next has raised nearly $4 million since its inception in 2013, Todd said.
Believe Again and American Future Project must report contributions and expenditures by July 31 for the first half of the year. America Next, a “dark money” group, need not disclose its donors or detail its spending; it cannot devote more than half its activities to political efforts, but that requirement is not vigorously enforced.
The outside groups cannot directly coordinate their activities with the Jindal campaign but are operated by people from Jindal’s network and may spend to support him. Believe Again, for example, has sponsored advertising and town hall meetings for Jindal in Iowa, home to the Feb. 1 caucuses that kick off the nomination process.
The grand total of $9.1 million behind Jindal puts him in decent shape among the nearly 20 candidates for the Republican nomination and sets him up to compete in at least Iowa. But it is far short of the $119 million backing former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush or the $51 million for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, of Texas, or the $45 million for U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, of Florida.
At this point in the 2012 election cycle, only two single-candidate super PACs had been formed, and they had collected a total of $15 million. Of the $377 million raised so far this year by all presidential candidates, Republican and Democratic, more than $225 million has flowed to outside groups.
What changed the game were federal court decisions in 2010 that legalized unlimited donations to independent political groups from any source. By contrast, campaign committees can accept donations of no more than $2,700 per election from individuals and of no more $5,000 per year from PACs, with no corporate or union contributions allowed.
Jindal consistently lags the crowded Republican field in opinion polls. Key to his emergence as a serious contender will be his ability to sustain his fundraising success.
His campaign committee report reflects an especially heavy concentration of donors in Louisiana, compared with several other, better-known presidential candidates (he has not identified the donors to his outside groups). A broader base would enhance his financial prospects.
What also may not be known until the July 31 filings is whether Jindal is backed by any serious high-rollers — the kind of supporters who can prop up a campaign for months on their own. The Republican presidential campaign of former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, for example, has said its kitty totals more than $18 million, with $17 million of that in super PACS — and $15 million of the super PAC money coming from just three donors.
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