The flood of seven-figure contributions to outside groups supporting presidential candidates — officially reported for the first time Friday — illustrates in stark terms how the unprecedented political buying power of wealthy donors has fundamentally shifted U.S. presidential campaigns. The 67 biggest donors, each of whom gave $1 million or more, donated more than three times as much as the 508,000 smallest donors combined, according to a POLITICO analysis of reports filed with the Federal Election Commission and the Internal Revenue Service. The 67 mega-donors accounted for $128 million in cash to super PACs supporting specific 2016 presidential candidates. In all, POLITICO’s analysis found that 29 super PACS and other big-money non-profits dedicated to the candidates combined to raise $271 million from 9,500 donors, for an average donation of $29,000.
On the ledger’s other side, the analysis found that donors who gave $200 or less to the candidates’ campaigns (and whose donations are estimated at $75 each) combined to donate $38 million to the campaigns of the 21 announced candidates.
The analysis highlights tactical challenges not faced by past presidential campaigns – namely how to spend all of that cash efficiently and legally, given rules intended to wall off candidates and their campaigns from big-money groups.
While prospective presidential candidates in past cycles crisscrossed the country cultivating relationships with county chairmen in Iowa and New Hampshire, most 2016 White House aspirants spent the months leading up to their launches schmoozing billionaires. And the FEC and IRS reports show that billionaire checks have not only dwarfed those of small donors who used to be the lifeblood of campaigns, but essentially built the foundations for many presidential bids.