​​​​​​​Lesson of 2017: Political campaign season truly never ends

Trump, super PACs, congressional hopefuls raised cash at torrid pace

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The Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., on November 14, 2016. 

Ian Morton / Creative Commons

Once upon a time not terribly long ago, federal politicians more or less kept their campaigning to election years. They reserved their energies in odd-numbered, non-election years for legislating and governing.

No longer. This decade’s swift shift from such norms reached a crescendo in 2017, led by President Donald Trump’s pursuit of 2020 re-election cash, underway even before he took his first oath of office.

Super PACs, political party committees and federal candidates themselves followed suit, together generating hundreds of millions of dollars toward the 2018 midterms, 2020 presidential election and a couple of white-hot special congressional elections that attracted eight-figure investments from national-level interests.

Such political powers closed their financial books for 2017 on Wednesday night, reporting how they raised and spent their money, and disclosing how much of it they had going into a year when Democrats are racing to regain control of the U.S. House and U.S. Senate and Republicans are fighting to preserve the level of power they’ve enjoyed since Trump swept into the White House.

Here’s a by-the-numbers look at some of the more intriguing, telling and odd figures the Center for Public Integrity discovered in this latest round of campaign finance filings:

$43,365,652: How much Trump’s re-election campaign has raised so far through the end of 2017. That’s not even counting donors that gave money right before Trump’s State of the Union address — Trump offered them the perk of seeing their names appear on his campaign’s Facebook video live feed of his speech Tuesday to Congress. Raising so much money this soon is unprecedented; former President Barack Obama, for one, didn’t even announce he was running for re-election until the third year of his first term. But Trump is certainly a different kind of candidate, having filed re-election paperwork on Jan. 20, 2017 — the day of his inauguration.

RELATED: Actions, not words, tell Trump's political money story

$6.9 million: What Trump's re-election campaign raised in the final three months of 2017. The campaign spent $2.8 million in that same timeframe, with about $54,000 going to Trump-owned businesses, for rent, legal consulting, and a “meeting expense.”  More than a third of what Trump’s campaign spent during this time period — about $1.1 million — went toward legal expenses. About $25,000 covered costs for making campaign paraphernalia such as hats, stickers and glasses.  

$22.1 million: Trump’s campaign cash on hand at the end of 2017.

$0: How much money Trump has personally invested in his 2020 campaign, so far.

$35,000: Minimum amount per month pro-Trump super PAC Rebuilding America Now spends on political consulting performed by the group’s managing director, Laurance Gay, in 2017 alone. The group hasn’t spent a dime on actual political activity, but the Daily Beast reported it plans to target former Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida and Democrat Rep. Maxine Waters of California. (Super PACs may raise and spend unlimited amounts of money to advocate for and against political candidates.)

$1.3 million: The haul Vice President Mike Pence raised through his leadership PAC, Great America Committee, during the second half of 2017. About a third of its donations came from corporate PACs, including Eli Lilly and Company, Boeing, AT&T and private prison operator CoreCivic, to name a few. The National Rifle Association Political Victory Fund also pitched in $5,000, the maximum it may legally give. Great America Committee donated to the campaign of Pence’s brother, Greg Pence, who is running for his sibling’s former congressional seat in Indiana, as well as a smattering of other Republican candidates.

½: What the Democratic National Committee raised compared to its Republican equivalent in all of 2017. The DNC took in $66 million the entire year with $6.5 million cash on hand and $6.1 million in debt as of Dec. 31. The RNC boasts a 2017 total of $132.5 million, with $38.8 million in the bank as of Dec. 31.

$16.3 million: Donations Senate Majority PAC, a super PAC that aims to elect liberals to the Senate, raised during the second half of 2017. While the group attracted some major donations from well-known donors, such as Fred Eychaner, Donald Sussman and George Soros, the liberal super PAC took in its share of “dark money.” Despite the Democratic Party preaching against undisclosed donors, its leading super PAC accepted donations from its partner nonprofit, Majority Forward, and other trade groups and unions whose root funding can’t be easily, if ever be traced to an identifiable, human source.

$14.2 million: Amount that Senate Majority PAC’s Republican counterpart, the Senate Leadership Fund, raised the entirety of last year. The super PAC, which has connections to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, took in donations from Koch Industries ($100,000), Devon Energy ($500,000) and Trump’s close friend and former business partner, casino owner Phillip Ruffin ($250,000).

$13.8 million: Amount super PAC Congressional Leadership Fund, which pushes to fill Congress with Republicans, raised during the second half of 2017. But almost half, or $6.7 million, came from its “sister” organization, nonprofit American Action Network, which isn’t by law required to disclose its donors. This leaves much of the Congressional Leadership Fund’s funds a mystery. Of the donations that are publicly disclosed, relatives of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos donated $350,000.

$175,000: What the Florida Democratic Party contributed to pro-Democrat super PAC Priorities USA Action in August. A political party committee giving money to a super PAC is uncommon, not illegal. But it’s a curious move for the Florida Democratic Party, given that it’s pilloried the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which gave rise to super PACs later that year. “We need to send a strong message that the American people support getting big money out of politics,” the Florida Democratic Party declared to supporters in 2015, for example.

$7,022: Cost of an event the Trump/Republican National Committee joint fundraising committee threw at Wynn Las Vegas resort in December. Steve Wynn stepped down as Republican National Committee finance chairman after the Wall Street Journal published an investigation cataloguing a long history of alleged sexual misconduct. The Republican National Committee has not returned donations from Wynn, despite calling on Democrats to do the same with checks from disgraced film producer and liberal megadonor Harvey Weinstein.

$950,000: Amount a new super PAC called Remember Mississippi received from two megadonors that don’t live in Mississippi: shipping supplies CEO Richard Uihlein and Robert Mercer of Renaissance Technologies. The group is backing Republican state Sen. Chris McDaniel against incumbent Republican Sen. Roger Wicker in Mississippi’s Republican U.S. Senate primary this year.

At least $4.5 million: How much Uihlein dumped into super PAC coffers over the past six months. Among the many: $1.4 million to Americas PAC, a group spending hundreds of thousands to unseat Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin; $500,000 to former U.N. ambassador John Bolton’s super PAC and $2 million to Club for Growth’s Missouri branch, which is supporting Republican Josh Hawley in his run for Senate. In all of 2017, Uihlein has invested the most disclosed money of any other political donor — around the tune of $14 million.

1: Number of funders of a conservative super PAC that’s attacked Republican Dan Schwartz in his bid for Nevada’s governorship. All $50,000 came from Future45, a pro-Trump super PAC reportedly behind Schwartz’s opponent, Attorney General Adam Laxalt.

$210,000: How much the mysterious California-based Technology For Democracy LLC gave the super PAC Forward Majority Action, which tries to elect more Democrats to state-level offices. The limited liability company’s address is a UPS store in Portola Valley. The LLC also gave $100,000 to the Democratic National Committee. (Update, 10:42 a.m. Feb. 2, 2018: A Democratic National Committee report shows the money comes from LinkedIn cofounder Reid Garrett Hoffman.)

$1 million: The amount Karl Rove-backed American Crossroads super PAC received from its biggest donor in the second half of 2017, Dallas-based Hillwood Development Company LLC, which is led by billionaire Ross Perot Jr.

$70,000: What Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's 2016 presidential committee made off renting out his supporter lists this year. He’s still about $41,000 in debt. Sen. Marco Rubio, who also ran for president in 2016, made almost $80,000 of his list. Rubio, however, is still almost $928,000 in debt.  

7: Minimum number of 2016 presidential contenders that are still in campaign debt. Rubio leads the pack, followed by Rick Santorum ($163,000), Libertarian Gary Johnson ($151,000), George Pataki ($143,000), Bernie Sanders ($101,000), Scott Walker ($41,000) and Jim Gilmore ($12,000). Pataki’s debt includes more than $14,000 in unpaid rent, which lends some credence to the clarion call — “the rent is too damn high!” — of perennial New York political candidate Jimmy McMillan. But no presidential campaign from any era owes more than that of 2012 GOP hopeful Newt Gingrich, who filed disclosures Wednesday indicating his committee remains more than $4.63 million in debt. Among the Gingrich campaign’s dozens of creditors: Comcast, Twitter, Verizon Wireless and telemarketer InfoCision, which could use some extra cash after settling for $250,000 a federal complaint alleging the company used “false and misleading” tactics on behalf of some of its charitable clients.

$42,156: What Sanders’ presidential committee paid late last year to clear event security debts owed to Upper Providence Township in Pennsylvania and the National City Police Department in California. Sanders has now paid most, but not all, outstanding bills sent to his campaign by municipalities and law enforcement jurisdictions across the nation. That’s in contrast to Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, who still refuse to pay event security bills sent to them by various localities during the 2016 presidential campaign.

$12,016: How much former Republican Rep. Aaron Schock of Illinois paid in legal fees during the final three months of last quarter of 2017. The previous year, he was indicted on 24 felony counts relating to misuse of office and campaign funds. (Remember his Downton Abbey office digs?) He still owes $746,985 to law firm Jones Day for legal services.

9: Minimum number of lawmakers that spent campaign money at Trump properties during the final three months of 2017.

$1,696: Travel and hotel costs Republican Rep. Gregg Harper of Mississippi paid to Trump International Hotel in Washington.

$937.30: What Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois spent on catering at the Chicago Trump hotel.

$393: The cost of a fundraising lunch at the Trump International Hotel, paid for by Republican Rep. Chris Collins of New York.

$40.80: How much Republican Rep. Karen Handel, who won the Georgia special election last year, spent at the Trump International Hotel for food or drinks in October.

$33,000: Amount pro-Trump super PAC America First Action, Inc. spent at Trump International Hotel from October to December. It also paid the firms of past Trump campaign aides, such as $55,000 to former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski for strategy consulting and $137,000 to former digital strategist Brad Parscale for fundraising consulting and design.

Carrie Levine contributed to this article.

This article was co-published by TIME

READ MORE:

Actions, not words, tell Trump's political money story

By the numbers: a 2017 money-in-politics index

Liberals and conservatives agree: Ex-congressmen should put brakes on lobbying careers

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