Presidential campaign donors hedge bets

Some key contributors help bankroll two, four — even six candidates

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Presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.

Susan Walsh/AP, Charlie Neibergall/AP and Jonathan Bachman/AP.

It’s speed dating season for presidential campaign contributors.

More than 1,000 donors — including some of the nation’s most prominent political benefactors — are hedging their bets by spreading contributions among multiple White House hopefuls, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of new campaign finance disclosures and interviews with top fundraisers.

Most double-donors have divided their loyalties among the 2016 presidential race’s legion of Republicans — a field 15 candidates strong and still growing.

Meanwhile, a few liberal contributors are backing both Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton and one of her four primary challengers. A handful are even donating to Democrats and Republicans, the Center for Public Integrity’s analysis of contributions for the three months ending June 30 indicates.

Equally notable as most presidential candidates on Wednesday filed their first campaign cash disclosures: About half of the nation’s top 100 political donors during the past six years — as identified by the Center for Responsive Politics — haven’t yet donated to any of them, suggesting they haven’t settled on a favorite as yet.

Super contributors still keeping their checkbooks closed when presidential candidates come calling include the likes of conservative billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, as well as hedge fund manager Ken Griffin, TD Ameritrade founder J. Joe Ricketts and coal executive Joe Craft.

These megadonors are not only capable of helping presidential candidates’ own committees with modest contributions, but can also pour millions of dollars into super PACs and outside groups supporting their chosen candidates.

Such giving — legal thanks largely to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision five years ago in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission — can almost single-handedly shift the contours of a presidential race.

So far, the amounts volunteered by outside groups, like super PACs and nonprofits — at least on the Republican side — have dwarfed amounts raised by candidate committees.

Donations to outside groups are unlimited while a contribution to a candidate is capped at $2,700 per election, creating an even greater incentive for campaigns to lock in wealthy activists’ support.

“People are still on the sidelines,” confirmed Gaylord Hughey, a longtime Republican donor and fundraiser in east Texas who is currently raising money for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

The nation’s top 100 political donors reflect that: Twenty-four of them have invested early money in any GOP presidential candidates, according to the Center for Public Integrity’s analysis.

Of them, 10 have financially supported more than one.

Robert McNair, the owner of the Houston Texans, has even donated to three: Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Marco Rubio of Florida.

Meanwhile, about two dozen of the 100 have already donated to Democrat Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

They include Chicago media mogul Fred Eychaner, DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, philanthropist Alida Rockefeller Messinger, Texas trial lawyer Amber Mostyn and entertainment mogul Haim Saban.

One — David desJardins, a software engineer who was an early Google employee — has donated to Democrat Martin O’Malley, the former Maryland governor running against Clinton.

So many choices

Donors spreading wealth to multiple candidates offer varying reasons for their approach to Election 2016.

Take New York City venture capitalist Ken Abramowitz, a staunch Mitt Romney supporter in 2012 who’s already contributed to six Republican candidates this election cycle — Bush, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Rubio, Cruz, Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

“I’m right now in the learning phase and I’m trying to learn about the candidates, learn about their thinking, their capabilities of being president,” he said.

Abramowitz said his contributions were all made so he could attend events with the candidates, as he tries to gauge where they fall on issues he cares about: growing the economy, and protecting both the country and “the culture of America.” He mentally grades them on those issues.

“Eventually, I can’t speak for everyone else, but I’ll just guess, we’ll all find one or two candidates that we, so to speak, fall in love with,” Abramowitz said. “A very small minority of people will fall in love at this early stage.”

Diet company founder Jenny Craig of California has fattened the campaign accounts of Bush, Rubio and Cruz.

Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam Adelson, donated to Graham as well as a fundraising committee benefiting Rubio’s U.S. Senate campaign, which Rubio converted into a presidential campaign.

Dallas investment banker-turned-alcohol distributor Sheldon Stein showered Bush, Cruz, Perry and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania with thousands of dollars.

And former World Wrestling Entertainment executive and also-ran U.S. Senate candidate Linda McMahon of Connecticut split donations between Bush and Fiorina. "She has not formally endorsed any one candidate at this time," said Kate Duffy, a McMahon spokeswoman.

Mica Mosbacher, a Texas fundraiser for Cruz, said in an e-mail that she knows contributors who have donated to multiple candidates and also has talked to some “fence sitters,” though she said Cruz often wins over donors when he talks to them in person.

“Others have said to me that they committed to someone else but Ted is their number two choice so his message is resonating,” she wrote. “And it’s still early.”

More than 50 donors crossed party lines when contributing to multiple presidential candidates.

One, billionaire grocery mogul and would-be New York Daily News owner John Catsimatidis — a self-described moderate — donated to Clinton on the left and Bush, Cruz and Graham on the right.

Nily Falic, a pro-Israel businesswoman from Florida whose family made its millions running duty-free stores, also straddled party lines, donating to Clinton, Rubio and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. The Falics also helped bankroll the recent re-election of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Kevin O’Connor, who oversees governmental and political affairs for the International Association of Fire Fighters, said the union has so far contributed to Bush, Clinton, O’Malley and former Virginia U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, a Democrat. The union also plans to send a check to another Democrat in Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, he said.

“We’re just kind of, if you will, helping our friends out,” he said, citing the union’s positive relationships with all those candidates during their previous stints in office. “There are a number of people in the race that have earned our respect and, to some extent, our support financially, and that’s reflected in what we’re doing in these donations.”

The union will go through its endorsement process and make a decision on its formal endorsement sometime between August and October, he said.

Strictly on the Democratic side, Hollywood honcho David Geffen wrote checks to Clinton and Sanders.

Generating big money early

There are 480 days until Election Day 2016 rolls around, but it doesn’t feel that way on the presidential fundraising circuit.

Before campaign fundraising books closed on June 30, the candidates sent out dozens of desperate fundraising emails with subject lines like “Friend, this is it” and “Last Chance!”

Their goal: to post the highest possible fundraising number for the quarter, the first time most of them were required to file a campaign disclosure report.

The reports, which were due by 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, show some clear winners and losers.

Clinton posted by far the biggest haul of hard money — $47.5 million. She also spent the largest amount, $18.7 million, though she still had the most cash on hand, with $28.9 million.

Celebrities dotted her disclosure, from Beyoncé Knowles-Carter (employer: self-employed; occupation: entrepreneur) to actors Ben Affleck and Leonardo DiCaprio, who all gave the maximum $2,700 allowed toward the primary.

Sanders, a self-described social Democrat, came in second in the cash race with about $15.2 million. Strikingly, more than three-quarters of Sanders’ contributions this quarter came from small-dollar donors who gave $200 or less, compared to about 17 percent of Clinton’s.

Bush came third, with $11.4 million, though the super PAC supporting him has reportedly raised more than $100 million to support his candidacy. Prominent donors to his campaign include hedge fund titan Daniel Loeb and oil and gas billionaire Trevor Rees-Jones. Bush also received at least 56 contributions totaling nearly $150,000 from people who listed investment banking giant Goldman Sachs as their employer.

He was followed by Cruz, with $10 million.

But the campaign committee hauls of Bush and Cruz — and those of several other Republican candidates — were dwarfed by fundraising totals for nominally independent political committees supporting them.

At least five Republican candidates — Fiorina, Bush, Rubio, Perry and Cruz — are backed by super PACs and nonprofits that have reportedly raised millions more than the campaigns themselves.

The outside groups are already picking up the tab for ads and organizing costs in early states. Super PACs aren’t required to reveal their finances until July 31, while nonprofit organizations that support candidates are generally allowed to keep their donors secret.

Candidates technically are not permitted to coordinate with outside groups such as super PACs, although many are pushing the boundaries.

For instance, before officially announcing his candidacy last month, Bush fundraised for Right to Rise, the super PAC supporting him, and it will engage in core functions such as campaign advertising.

Clinton is working directly with Correct the Record, a super PAC that provides it with opposition research but does not advertise. A super PAC supporting Fiorina has publicized her endorsements and answered questions from the press.

“There will be a lot more money spent by super PACs than by the campaigns” this time, said Charlie Black, a longtime Republican lobbyist and fundraiser who is currently neutral in the primary.

“Hard money” raised directly by campaigns does have its advantages despite federal laws limiting how much of it candidates may raise.

The candidates pay lower rates for television ad time, for instance, and have more control over how money is spent.

“If I were running a campaign, I would hate that I can’t control my own campaign, my own message,” Black said.

From April 1 to June 30, presidential candidates collectively reported raising more than $120 million through their campaigns, even though several of them didn’t formally announce until a few weeks ago.

Still, that’s only a fraction of the hundreds of millions of dollars the super PACs and nonprofits supporting them have so far voluntarily disclosed raising — and some of those groups have not yet said how much money they’ve taken in.

Donors writing multimillion-dollar checks to those outside groups, though, may be dancing with more than one date.

Hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer is one example.

He’s reportedly a main donor to a connected group of super PACs supporting Cruz. The groups have said they have raised more than $37 million, though it isn’t yet known how much is from Mercer.

That’s a pretty substantial investment in Cruz. Campaign finance filings yesterday, though, show he and his family also contributed to Fiorina.

This story was co-published with TIME

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