Republican Jeb Bush and Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton are asking donors to write the checks to get their campaigns started. Yet these “new” candidates have been fueling their presidential ambitions for months — years, in Clinton’s case — thanks to outside groups that will continue serving as big-money bank accounts throughout the race. In the 2016 presidential field, creative financing abounds. While donors can give a maximum $2,700 apiece per election to their favorite candidatdte’s campaign, the presidential contenders offer generous supporters plenty of other options. Outside groups that can accept checks of unlimited size include personalized super PACs that, while barred from directly coordinating with candidates, are often filled with their trusted friends. There are also “dark money” nonprofit policy groups that keep contributors’ names secret.
Super PACs working exclusively to help individual presidential candidates appeared on the scene in the last race, with Restore Our Future supporting Republican nominee Mitt Romney and Priorities USA boosting President Barack Obama. One 2012 super PAC, funded almost entirely by Las Vegas casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, kept Newt Gingrich afloat in the Republican nomination contest by spending millions of dollars on television ads promoting him and attacking other candidates.
This time, the influence of those kinds of groups will increase “by a huge factor,” said Spencer Zwick, the chief fundraiser for Romney.
“Super PACs in 2012 were still not talked about by the campaign apparatus,” he said. Not so in 2016. “You literally have the same leadership group that’s running a super PAC that will then run the campaign, or vice versa.”