If you wanted a single sentence to sum up the state of our modern campaign finance system, it would be hard to do better than this one from the Washington Post's Matea Gold and Tom Hamburger:
One longtime bundler recently fielded a call from a dispirited executive on his yacht, who complained, "We just don't count anymore."
This is what we've come to: the rich businessman on his yacht feels out of the loop, because campaigns only care about billionaires.
Billionaires trump bundlers
With attempts to regulate spending in tatters, and unlimited donations now permitted to flow into and out of Super PACs and outside groups, campaigns are increasingly spending their time wooing the absolute richest of the rich.
And according to Gold and Hamburger, donors who are merely rich, but not mega-rich, are feeling neglected. The story quotes connected fundraisers using the phrases "minor leagues" and "feel a little disenfranchised." Head over and read the full, excellent piece.
But it didn't always work this way. Back before Citizens United v. FEC and subsequent court rulings brought Super PACs into being in 2010, each individual was permitted to give no more than a few thousand dollars to a presidential campaign, and a bit more to a party committee. Because of these contribution limits, presidential campaigns were particularly reliant on star fundraisers called "bundlers," who could convince many of their rich friends to cough up several thousand bucks each.
But Super PACs that can raise unlimited sums have changed the math. Just one billionaire can now, legally, fund a full ad campaign promoting a candidate or savaging his opponent. "Who needs a bundler when you have a billionaire?" Gold and Hamburger write.
Campaigns are tailoring their strategies accordingly. For instance, Jeb Bush is reportedly delaying the official launch of his campaign for two big money-related reasons, as Alex Isenstadt and Katie Glueck reported recently.
Bush wants to maximize both the time in which he can solicit unlimited funds for his Super PAC and the time he gets to work with the strategist who will likely head his Super PAC, Mike Murphy. Once Bush is an official candidate for federal office, the Super PAC will have to raise its huge sums without Bush asking for them directly — and Murphy (or whoever runs the Super PAC) will no longer be able to coordinate with Bush's campaign.
Another example? Many expected Jeb Bush would win so much support in Florida that Marco Rubio wouldn't be able to raise the money he needs for a presidential bid.
Yet Rubio only needs to hook a few big fish to raise tens of millions of dollars. And according to another Washington Post report (this time by Ed O'Keefe and Matea Gold), he's already hooked one. Billionaire Norman Braman, an auto dealer from Miami, "is expected to put as much as $10 million into a pro-Rubio super PAC," the authors write.
As Gold and Hamburger's story points out, campaigns will still need to raise money in their own right, under the old fundraising limits, so the bundlers will come into play eventually.
But for now, they're feeling pretty lonely on their yachts.
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