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Data: Nearly 5 dozen give a third of all 2016 campaign cash

August 2, 2015
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FILE- In this July 29, 2015, file photo, Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, questions Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Commissioner John Koskinen on Capitol Hill in Washington. A super PAC aiming to help Cruz win the Republican presidential nomination raised from a single donor nearly as much as the candidate's formal campaign raised in three months. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)
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FILE- In this July 29, 2015, file photo, Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, questions Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Commissioner John Koskinen on Capitol Hill in Washington. A super PAC aiming to help Cruz win the Republican presidential nomination raised from a single donor nearly as much as the candidate's formal campaign raised in three months. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — It took Texas Republican Ted Cruz three months to raise $10 million for his campaign for president, through dinners, hundreds of handshakes and a stream of emails to supporters.

One check, from one donor, topped those results.

New York hedge fund magnate Robert Mercer’s $11 million gift to a group backing Cruz put him atop a tiny group of millionaires and billionaires giving major money for the 2016 presidential election.

An Associated Press analysis of fundraising reports filed with federal regulators through Friday found that nearly 60 donations of a million dollars or more accounted for about a third of the more than $380 million brought in so far. Donors who gave at least $100,000 account for about half of all donations so far to candidates’ presidential committees and the super political action committees, or PACs, that support them.

The review covered contributions to outside groups that can accept checks of any size, known as super PACs, and to the formal campaigns, which are limited to accepting no more than $2,700 per donor. The tally includes donations from individuals, corporations and other organizations reflected in data filed with the Federal Election Commission as of Friday, the deadline for super PACs to report for the first six months of the year.

That concentration of money from a small group of wealthy donors builds on a trend that began in 2012, the first presidential contest after a series of court rulings and regulatory steps that created the super PAC. They can openly support candidates but may not directly coordinate their actions with their campaigns.

“We have never seen an election like this, in which the wealthiest people in America are dominating the financing of the presidential election and as a consequence are creating enormous debts and obligations from the candidates who are receiving this financial support,” said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, a Washington-based group that wants to limit money in politics.

Others see a benefit.

“Big money gives us more competitive elections by helping many more candidates spread their message,” said David Keating, director of the Center for Competitive Politics, which advocates for fewer campaign finance limits.

Many say their contributions, which the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized as equivalent to free speech, merely reflect their intense belief in a particular candidate — and in the political system in general.

“The voters still, at the end of the day, make the decision,” said Scott Banister, a Silicon Valley investor who gave $1.2 million to a super PAC helping Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul in the Republican presidential race. “You can spend $1 billion trying to tell the voters to vote for a set of ideas they don’t like, and they will still vote against the candidate.”

While the existence of high-dollar donors is more pronounced on the Republican side, they’re also among those giving to the super PAC backing Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton. Seven donors of at least a million dollars accounted for almost half of the total collected by Priorities USA Action.

But no one has capitalized on the new era of big money like Jeb Bush, whose super PAC had a record-setting haul of $103 million in the first six months of the year.

Super PACs will spend as campaigns do, investing in polling and data sets, hiring employees in key states and buying pricey television and digital advertising, direct mailings and phone calls to voters.

“There are a handful of billionaires that are making viable individuals whose campaigns never would have gotten off the ground,” said Paul S. Ryan, senior counsel at the Campaign Legal Center, which wants to tighten limits on money in politics.

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Associated Press writers Nicholas Riccardi in Denver and Thomas Beaumont in Des Moines, Iowa, contributed to this report.

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