Jan 31, 2016 11:24 PM
Presidential super PACs lost steam in second half of 2015
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) Donald Trump has opened his wallet in a big way for his presidential bid. Billionaires are filling the coffers of super political action committees helping Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Jeb Bush. And small, online contributions are powering some of the candidates.
Sunday is the first time in six months that the public has gotten a look at super PAC finances. The candidates' official campaigns also have to file new paperwork. They have until midnight.
Here are some findings:
BIG MONEY WANES
Many super PACs saw reduced hauls in the second half of the year, compared to the first half. That could be a reflection of the crowded and unusual contest on the Republican side, where frequent poll leader Donald Trump has virtually no outside help while a group backing Bush has spent tens of millions of dollars and seen little payoff for its investment.
Bush's super PAC provided the starkest illustration of the trend.
After locking down a record $103 million in the first six months of 2015, Right to Rise netted $15 million in new contributions, most of it thanks to a $10 million gift from a company belonging to former insurance and finance executive Maurice "Hank" Greenberg. Right to Rise closed the year with more than $58 million in cash on hand, though it has been spending money at a rapid clip this month, advertising records show.
Between July and the end of December, America Leads, a super PAC for Chris Christie, raised less than half as much as the $11 million it had collected between January and the end of June. Billionaire hedge-fund manager Steve Cohen and his wife Alexandra gave the group a fresh $2 million in December, repeating their $2 million gift to the super PAC in the late spring, the fundraising reports show.
Outside groups supportive of John Kasich landed about $3.7 in new contributions, compared to the more notable $11.7 million they'd had harvested for him before June 30. A spokeswoman said January which is not included in the new reports has been better. Six donors gave a collective $4 million in recent weeks, including longtime Kasich booster Greg Wendt, a San Francisco investor.
THE CLINTON NETWORK
On the flip side, Democrat Hillary Clinton saw a significant jump in outside money late last year. Her campaign is making aggressive use of these groups. A super PAC called Correct the Record works alongside Clinton's campaign, saying it is not running afoul of anti-coordination laws because it isn't spending money on radio or television ads to help her. No other political group is testing that theory.
A second super PAC, Priorities USA, gave Correct the Record $1 million at the end of the year, new fundraising reports show. Priorities, which raised $16.7 million by June 30 saw its coffers balloon to $41.5 million by December.
Its new fundraising report showed 29 donors have given $20 million or almost 80 percent of its receipts in the last six months of 2015. Billionaire democratic super donor George Soros topped the super PAC's list with a $6 million contribution a follow-up to $1 million he gave earlier. Media mogul Haim Saban and his wife, Cheryl, gave $3 million, and financier Donald Sussman gave $1.5 million.
Seven others donated $1 million or more, including labor unions such as the International Union of Operating Engineers and the American Federation of Teachers. At the end of the year, the super PAC had $35 million in cash on hand.
Her Democratic competitor Bernie Sanders picked up $33 million compared to her $37 million in official campaign cash from October to December. Sanders continued his dominance with contributors giving $200 or less; those donations made up some 70 percent of his haul.
Trump is in a category all his own. The billionaire businessman loaned his campaign $10.8 million in the last three months of 2015, after relying mostly on contributors during the fall. The new loans represent a return to his long-touted self-funding plan. As he began his campaign last spring, he loaned it $1.8 million.
The leader in many Republican preference polls, Trump has promised to spend whatever it takes to secure the party's nomination, sometimes naming $100 million as a figure. He hasn't had to go deep into his pockets yet, riding a wave of publicity. But he did spend almost $7 million in the final three months of the year, fundraising reports show.
Even when super PAC donors are named, sometimes they're not fully identified.
One example of mystery money surfaced in the donors to Conservative Solutions PAC, a group aligned with Republican candidate Marco Rubio. Overall, Conservative Solutions raised about $30 million last year, including about $14 million between July 1 and December 31.
One $500,000 check was from IGX LLC, which lists an address in Wilmington, Delaware. The trail appears to go cold at that address. According to the Delaware's state corporation registry, IGX LLC was established last May. Corporation Service Company a company that sets up companies serves as IGX's registered agent, masking true ownership on state incorporation documents.
GOP FUNDRAISING LEADERS
Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, the first candidate to file a fundraising report Sunday, is likely to have raised more in the final three months of the year than any of his GOP rivals: $22.6 million.
Yet that impressive haul is tempered by his overhead: His campaign spent $27.3 million in the same time period. Put simply, he burned through more cash than he generated.
The report shows Carson's now seemingly longshot campaign is owed almost $500,000 by the U.S. Secret Service for travel reimbursement. Carson and Trump have had government-funded protection for months, at their request.
Another top money-raiser last year, Ted Cruz, reported collecting $20.5 million from October to the end of December, a total boosted by $8.6 million from thousands of donors giving $200 or less. But Cruz spent considerably less than Carson, about $15.6 million, and had almost $19 million in cash when the year began.
Rubio's campaign picked up fundraising steam in the last three months of the year, collecting $14.2 million, more than doubling his earlier rate. But contrast, Bush's finances were flagging, with his official campaign raising just over $7 million roughly half what he'd raised in the earlier quarter.
Associated Press writers Jack Gillum and Jeff Horwitz contributed to this report.