Red flags in finance reports for Clinton, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio.
Hillary Clinton narrowly edged out Bernie Sanders in third quarter fundraising, but she was in a class all by herself when it came to blowing through campaign cash, according to a POLITICO analysis of reports filed Thursday with the Federal Election Commission.
The analysis raises red flags about whether Clinton’s increasingly tapped-out big donor base can maintain her massive campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, which spent $26 million ― more than twice that of any other presidential candidate ― between the beginning of July and the end of September. During that stretch, she dramatically expanded her campaign infrastructure, spending more than most of her rivals on payroll-related costs ($8.6 million), polling ($1.6 million in payments and unpaid bills) and office space ($641,000 in rent).
Clinton has worked to avoid the financial quagmire that ensnared her 2008 presidential campaign, which relied on major donors to support an increasingly bloated infrastructure, and became racked with debt.
Her 2016 campaign did, in fact, finish last month with $33 million in the bank ― nearly $5 million more than Sanders, her closest rival ― and with less than $650,000 in debt. In detailing her $29-million haul third quarter haul on Thursday evening, her campaign manager Robbie Mook proclaimed it “a testament to (the) broad support for Hillary Clinton’s vision for America.” But POLITICO’s analysis found that to maintain her spending pace, Clinton likely will need to significantly expand her fundraising base to include more small donors, who can ― and usually do ― continue giving throughout the race.
The cultivation of small-dollar donation streams has taken on added significance as super PACs funded by seven-figure checks from ultra-rich donors have emerged as dominant spenders in the early stages of the 2016 elections. For candidates to hold their own in this new big-money landscape, their operatives have become increasingly focused on building lean but muscular campaign operations. Already, a pair of once-promising Republican candidates ― Scott Walker and Rick Perry ― have been forced from the race in spite of deep-pocketed super PAC support, partly because they failed to generate enough cash from diverse donor pools to sustain their ambitious campaign structures.
In the third quarter, only 17 percent of Clinton’s cash came from donors who gave $200 or less. By contrast, donors who gave the maximum donation of $2,700 for the primary election ― and who, as such, won’t be able to donate again in the primary ― provided more than 50 percent of the former secretary of state’s haul.
Among presidential candidates who have built top-tier-level campaigns, only Republican Jeb Bush relied more on major donors and less on small donors in the third quarter. The former Florida governor raised less than 7 percent of his $13.3-million third-quarter total from small donors, compared to at least 65 percent from maxed-out donors.
Like Clinton, Bush initially seemed intent on trying to scare off potential competitors with “shock and awe” fundraising might. But both would-be favorites posted precariously high burn rates in the third quarter, spending about 85 percent as much as they raised respectively.
That’s nearly identical to the burn rate revealed in the FEC report filed Thursday by Walker, who last month explained his decision to end his campaign by telling staff “Finances just aren’t there.” The Wisconsin governor’s approach to financing his campaign involved lavishing attention on major donors, including a retreat for them at Chicago’s Wrigley Field and a bundler outing at a Green Bay Packers game. Walker’s campaign paid the football team $19,000 for facility rental and catering, according to his report, which showed that he nonetheless raised a respectable 36 percent of his $7.4-million haul from small donors. But he spent more than half of his total on a bloated payroll that included monthly salaries ranging from more than $9,000 for relatively junior staffers to $16,000 for campaign manager Rick Wiley.
Bush’s campaign manager Danny Diaz on Thursday boasted that his boss’s campaign is built towards enduring a tough primary and then pivoting toward a general election matchup with Clinton. “There are very few GOP campaigns committed to building a real infrastructure and among those we are confident ours is best in class,” he wrote in a memo to donors and other supporters detailing the campaign’s presence in the states hosting the first four nominating contests ― a total of 37 paid staffers and seven offices in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.
But the Bush campaign also has worked in recent weeks to pare back its spending, taking commercial flights or even car trips instead of private jets, opting for less expensive hotels and slashing staff salaries. One operative familiar with the campaign explained “the high life has ended,” pointing out “the traveling party has definitely shrunk.” A POLITICO analysis of Bush’s third quarter report found that more than 60 staffers might have had their salaries cut or their positions changed to reduce their income ― pay cuts that could save the campaign anywhere from $450,000 to nearly $900,000 per quarter.
Even still, Bush’s third quarter payroll-related costs ($2.6 million) and overall spending ($11.5 million) were among the highest in the race. He was outspent only by Clinton and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who raised the most of any GOP candidate ― $20.8 million, of which an impressive 60 percent came from small donors ― but also spent freely. Carson’s campaign dropped $1,015 at Washington’s Johnny’s Half Shell seafood restaurant and $1,400 at New York’s Sparks Steakhouse, among other expenses.
Other candidates openly boasted of their frugality in an effort to ensure donors that cash was being well spent.
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, whose persistent courtship of the richest donors on the right appears close to paying dividends, in a press release on Thursday highlighted his campaign’s purchase of furniture from Craigslist and its use of the UberX car service and budget airlines.
Rubio wasn’t entirely miserly, however. His campaign spent about $271,000 on private airfare — including a flight on a jet owned by the billionaire Koch brothers’ company ― and $14,000 for catering and facilities rental at the pricey Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif.
While other candidates spent more on private airfare (Clinton paid $560,000 to a New York-based charter service and owed the company another $66,000) and catering, Rubio’s third quarter showing was consider disappointing. He posted a whopping 80-percent burn rate on a meager $5.7-million haul ― of which 21 percent came from small donors, with a larger percentage coming from maxed-out donors.
On the far other side of the ledger was Sanders. The Vermont Senator, who is among the only leading candidates without a super PAC supporting him, has mounted a surprisingly robust challenge to Clinton for the Democratic nomination on the strength of a grassroots army of small online donors. His campaign raised $26.2 million in the third quarter ― 77 percent of which came from small donors, compared to just a tiny fraction from maxed-out donors ― and spent only $11.3 million.
“Other campaigns are bankrolled by big donors who have given so much even under our current corrupt political system they can’t legally give any more,” campaign manager Jeff Weaver said in a statement that pegged the average donation to Sanders at $30. “Bernie’s big base of small donors may give again and again.”
In fact, in the two days since Sanders appearance at the first Democratic presidential debate, his campaign says it has raised $3.2 million from an explosion of nearly 100,000 donations.
On the Republican side, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina each raised more than 40 percent of their cash from small donors and kept their burn rates relatively low. Cruz spent 57 percent of the $12.2 million he raised in the quarter, while Fiorina spent 33 percent of her $6.8-million tally.
Then there was GOP frontrunner Donald Trump, whose finance report defied expectations, just as his continued polling dominance has. Despite vowing to finance his own campaign, the real estate showman raised $3.9 million ― 71 of which came from small donors ― and only gave $100,000 to his campaign from his own pocket in in-kind contributions.
While Trump spent more than $200,000 renting lists from the conservative Newsmax Media to build his supporter base, his campaign’s biggest expenditures were $700,000 for t-shirts and hats.
Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2015/10/hillary-clinton-fec-filing-cash-flow-problem-214870