I don’t know about you, but I’m seeing a lot of charges thrown around about campaign finance that aren’t necessary connected to the facts. So I’ve decided to look at the two Democratic candidates running in this presidential primary in order to clarify what has happened so far.
The most egregious error I see comes from people who cite direct contributions to the campaigns and tally the amount Clinton has received from Wall Street as if it came from the corporations themselves. For example, if we look at the 2016 race, the top industry that has donated to her campaign is “securities and investment” at over $18 million. But corporations are barred from donating directly to campaigns. So that $18 million is the total amount that people who work in that industry have donated. Beyond that, each individual is limited to donating $2,700 during the primary and another $2,700 for the general election. Because Clinton was formerly the U.S. Senator representing New York, the home of Wall Street, the people who work in those firms are her former constituency. It should come as no surprise to us that they are donating to her presidential campaign.
At this point, the Clinton campaign has out-raised the Sanders campaign with her total of over $130 million to his $96 million. But as is often noted, where Sanders is excelling is in raising small donations of under $250. Whereas 70% of his total fits that criteria, it is only 17% for Clinton. That could be a problem for her going forward.
One of my concerns on the topic of campaign finance is that we tend to focus all of our discussion on how much money is raised and very little on how it’s spent. In that category, it is interesting to note that Sanders is spending almost as fast as the funds are coming in. His “burn rate” so far is 85% (i.e., he’s spent 85% of what he’s raised), while Clinton’s is 78%. As a result, Clinton has $32.9 million in cash on hand to Sanders $14.7 million.
Beyond that, Matea Gold reports this difference:
A huge share of Sanders’s spending in January — $14 million — went into television ads, outpacing the $10 million that Clinton put into advertising. That helped him get more commercials on the air in Nevada in the run-up to Saturday’s caucuses, which Clinton won. Sanders had aired 4,650 spots in the state since January, compared to Clinton’s 4,156, according to Kantar Media/CMAG data analyzed by the Wesleyan Media Project.
Clinton still spent more on payroll last month, shelling out $4 million for hundreds of staffers the campaign has brought on. But Sanders more than doubled his spending on payroll compared to last quarter, plowing $2.5 million into staff, up from less than $1 million he was paying monthly at the end of last year.
I found it interesting – and a bit surprising – that Sanders has focused on advertising while Clinton has out-spent him on staffing. Perhaps that is why some reports that were warning about her lack of ground game in South Carolina proved to be in error.
If someone is looking for evidence that Clinton is beholden to Wall Street, donations of $2,700 to her campaign are not how you capture evidence for that claim. The real possibilities come with the ability of both individuals and corporations to donate unlimited amounts to superpacs. To date outside groups have raised over $57 million for Clinton – the largest being Priorities USA at over $50 million. It is interesting to note that these groups have only spent a small faction of that ($13 million) so far in this primary because the real contest for that will open up in the general election when superpac spending from the Republicans will target the Democratic nominee. It is unclear at this point how Sanders – if he were to be the nominee – would fend off such attacks.
I continue to see accusations that Clinton doesn’t seriously object to these superpacs that were created by the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United due to the fact that they have raised over $50 million to spend on her behalf. It is important to remember that the entire case was built on the efforts of the “vast right wing conspiracy” to discredit her via “Hillary: The Movie” produced by the lobbying group Citizens United. To doubt Clinton’s commitment to overturning that decision is to ignore the 25 years of mudslinging she has been subjected to by those who brought it to us in the first place.
Those are the facts about these two candidates when it comes to campaign finance and spending. As is often the case, they happen to be more complex and nuanced than is captured by slogans and soundbites.