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Presidential candidates differ on fundraising strategies, KU expert says

Friday, July 10, 2015

LAWRENCE — Jeb Bush's $114 million in campaign fundraising reported this week includes $103 million through his Rise to Rise Super PAC. Those are impressive numbers, but the real key will be to see if Bush gets a bump in the polls, a KU political science expert said.

Patrick Miller, a KU assistant professor of political science, discusses the recently released fundraising totals among presidential hopefuls from both parties.  His broad research interests include national politics and attitudes of partisanship.

Q: What is the significance of Jeb Bush's report right now?

Miller: Though this is just one report, it helps Bush look dominant again after many pundits had declared him no longer a front-runner. It does raise some questions, though.

First, Bush had been working behind the scenes to secure financial commitments, especially to his Super PAC. So this report could just reflect a lot of early, long committed money coming in from donors who may not make further contributions.

Second, Bush's support has fallen in recent polling, so raising more money may get more difficult if he cannot clearly re-establish himself as the front-runner.

Third, given Super PAC rules, there is no way to tell how many contributors this money reflects. It could all come from a select few, very wealthy donors. So while raising money makes a candidate look viable, it doesn't always reflect or translate into voter support. We should be looking to see whether this helps Bush rebound in the polls and whether he can keep this financial momentum going.

Q: Is it significant compared with Hillary Clinton's $45 million?

Miller: Clinton also had a good report. She didn't raise as much as Bush, but no one expected her to. Unlike Bush, she also doesn't have a very competitive nomination fight needing immediate money.

The $24.3 million raised by her Super PACs combined outpaces what either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney's PACs had raised at this point in 2011. If she and Bush win the nominations, Clinton will obviously need to step up her already prolific fundraising. However, it's important to remember that Romney and his Super PACs outspent Obama in 2012, so money doesn't necessarily equal a win. This is especially true if you are a candidate being outspent by a few hundred million when you are already saturating the electorate with likely over a billion dollars in campaign messaging.

Q: Do you see anything important regarding other candidates?

Miller: If it weren't for Bush's fundraising, other candidates, especially Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio in the GOP race, would have had good reports. But Bush is far outclassing them on the money front and making them look like second-tier candidates. They will be able to run viable campaigns with this kind of money, but certainly with a financial disadvantage.

Likewise, in the Democratic race Bernie Sanders brought in enough money to help build his campaign, but not enough to compete credibly with Clinton.

Q: How generally do these amounts reported at this point compare with the 2012 election or in wake of the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision?

Miller: This report also reflects some of what we've seen in previous elections. Clinton is mimicking the Obama and George W. Bush model of having more money directed at the official campaign than PACs. Given regulations on political coordination, this gives Clinton more direct control over how her money is spent and on what messages that money is spent on.

But Bush is reflecting more of what we've seen in Republican congressional campaigns in the last few cycles, and that is for the campaign to raise less money than the Super PACs. Focusing money on Super PACs can let candidates raise a lot of money quickly, but controlling how that money is spent is more challenging, regulated and bureaucratic. Either fundraising model is viable, but they certainly differ.

For more information, or to schedule an interview with Miller, contact George Diepenbrock at gdiepenbrock@ku.edu or 785-864-8853.