Buying of the President

Published — May 4, 2016

Ted Cruz and friends spent $10 per vote in Indiana. Trump won anyway.

Billionaire real estate tycoon now presumptive GOP nominee


Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz and his super PAC allies spent more than $10 per vote on advertising ahead of Indiana’s primary Tuesday.

And Donald Trump — whose campaign spent about $1.50 per vote — clobbered him anyway.

In all, Cruz and two supportive super PACs — the Club for Growth, an anti-tax organization that endorsed him, and Trusted Leadership PAC, a big-money vehicle designed to boost the U.S. senator from Texas — spent more than $4 million on television and radio advertising in Indiana, according to data provided to the Center for Public Integrity by The Tracking Firm, a nonpartisan media tracking company headquartered in Washington, D.C.

Despite the spending spree, Cruz won only about 405,000 votes, finishing in a distant second behind Trump, the front-runner who ultimately won about 590,000 votes.

Trump’s campaign spent about $870,000 on TV and radio advertising in Indiana, according to The Tracking Firm. These figures don’t include costs associated with online ads, direct mail, field staff, salaries, events or other expenditures.

During his victory speech Tuesday night, Trump praised his own campaign’s thriftiness.

“That’s something that makes me feel really, really very good,” Trump said.

“There have been 60,000 negative ads [against me],” Trump continued. “The people are so smart. They don’t buy it. They get it.”

In fact, more than 64,000 TV ads have attacked Trump in some fashion as of Monday, including about 8,000 from Democratic Party front-runner Hillary Clinton, according to a Center for Public Integrity review of data provided by Kantar Media/CMAG, a firm that monitors advertising on broadcast television and national — but not local — cable.

After his loss to Trump in Indiana, Cruz quit of the presidential race. Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who did not actively campaign in Indiana, is expected to end his campaign today as well.

An anti-Trump super PAC called Our Principles PAC — which did not endorse either Cruz or Kasich — spent an additional $1.2 million on ads in Indiana.

According to the Associated Press, Trump is now fewer than 200 delegates away from the magic number of 1,237 needed to officially clinch the GOP presidential nomination without a contested convention.

In Indiana’s Democratic primary, Bernie Sanders scored an upset victory, defeating Clinton by about 30,000 votes, or 5 percentage points.

Clinton did not spend a dime on TV or radio advertising in Indiana, while Sanders spent about $1.7 million — or about $5.20 per vote.

“It’s been clear all along that she’s the establishment candidate,” Sanders campaign spokesman Michael Briggs said of Clinton. “Advertising on television is one way we have to compete with that.”

Briggs said that Sanders, who badly trails Clinton in the delegate race, would press on to give voters in the remaining contests “the same kind of choice that people in other states have already gotten.”

Additionally, Briggs stressed, we “like our chances in a lot of those states.”

Clinton, however, remains poised to win the Democratic nomination thanks to her nearly insurmountable delegate lead. Clinton campaign spokesman Jesse Ferguson said the campaign — which, like Trump’s, is fewer than 200 delegates away from officially clinching the nomination — doesn’t “comment on our ad strategy.”

Overall, more than $1 billion has been spent in the 2016 presidential race, including about $640 million by candidates who are no longer in the races — and the outside groups, such as super PACs, that supported them.

Roughly one-fifth of that sum was spent by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and his supportive super PAC, Right to Rise USA.

Many campaign reformers have decried the 2016 election as a cesspool of special interests, where wealthy people and corporate entities have played outsized roles in how campaigns are waged.

Others disagree.

“The mantra about money buying elections has been demonstrated to be so 100 percent false,” Republican attorney Jim Bopp, one of Indiana’s 57 delegates, told the Center for Public Integrity. “Money buys speech, not influence, and certainly not elections.”

This story was co-published with NBC News.

Read more in Money and Democracy

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