While the Republican presidential candidates continue to dominate cable news coverage, Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders both posted big fundraising totals for the final quarter of 2015. Clinton raised $37 million over the last three months to Sanders’s $33 million, bringing her 2015 total to $112 million and Sanders’s to $73 million, according to the Washington Post.
Both candidates exceeded their fundraising goals for 2015. Clinton’s $37 million was the most of any candidate in the last three months, with Sanders not far behind. According to Time, the Clinton campaign is reporting that 94 percent of its donations were in increments of $100 or less. The Sanders campaign says that 99.9 percent of the donations it has received so far have been less than the allowed maximum of $2,700, meaning most Sanders supporters can donate again.
Though the amounts the two campaigns took in are similar, there are some important differences in how the Democratic rivals have gone about financing their campaigns. CNN reports that, between Bill and Hillary, the Clinton campaign hosted 174 private fundraisers for wealthy donors in 2015, bringing in $22 million. Sanders, meanwhile, hosted only nine such events since his campaign launched, and only two in the last quarter.
The Clinton campaign also raised $18 million for state Democratic parties and the Democratic National Committee. Sanders’s campaign didn’t report raising any money for the DNC. Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, the DNC has come under criticism for heavily favoring Clinton against Sanders, including by restricting the number of debates and temporarily revoking Sanders’s campaign from accessing crucial voter data. Sanders raised $1 million the day the story broke.
What Clinton’s widely reported numbers don’t include are funds raised by super PACs, which can spend on Clinton’s behalf without actually donating directly to the campaign, making the playing field appear more even than it really is. These include Priorities USA, which Politico reported in September had raised as much as $40 million for Clinton, and Correct The Record, described by the Washington Post as “a pro-Clinton rapid-response operation.”
Correct The Record is said to be testing the legal limits of Federal Election Commission rules and Citizens United, which opened up the floodgates for unlimited spending by super PACs on the condition that they don’t coordinate directly with a campaign. Despite this, Correct The Record says it has found a loophole that allows it to coordinate with the Clinton camp as long as it only distributes free material on the internet.
While the group’s name implies it’s only responding to anti-Clinton attacks, Correct The Record has gone on the offensive. In June, the group attempted to attack Sanders by tying him to former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
Former general counsel of the FEC, Lawrence Noble, writes in the Washington Post about Clinton’s “campaign-finance hypocrisy.” Noble alleges that, while her campaign talks about the danger of unaccountable dark money corrupting the American political process, Clinton willingly takes advantage of it.
“Most candidates have taken advantage of the fact that some members of the Federal Election Commission refuse to enforce the laws requiring independence of super PACs,” Noble writes.
“The result is single-candidate super PACs acting as campaign surrogates and being independent in name only, while sometimes hiding the true source of their funding by accepting contributions from dark-money 501(c)(4) organizations that don’t publicly identify the sources of their funds.”
Sanders has made campaign finance reform a pillar of his campaign and publicly disavowed super PACs. However, one pro-Sanders super PAC has spent $569,000 on ads for the candidate, according to Huffington Post: the National Nurses United for Patient Protection. The 185,000-member nurse’s union’s total expenditures for Sanders are about 1/70th of what Priorities USA has reportedly raised for Clinton.
Remarking on whether the group violates Sanders’s anti-super PAC stance, Sanders told CNN, “They are nurses and they are fighting for the health care of their people. They are doing what they think is appropriate. I do not have a super PAC.”
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Clinton’s top five donors of her political career are Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, DLA Piper, JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley, who have donated a combined $3.6 million. Virtually all of Sanders’s top donors in his career are unions, with the Machinists and Aerospace Workers Union, Teamsters, National Education Association, United Auto Workers, and United Food & Commercial Workers Union leading the charge with combined pledges of a little more than $335,000.
[Photo by Jim Cole/AP]