Buying of the President

Published — February 1, 2016 Updated — February 4, 2016 at 12:15 am ET

What’s hiding in presidential campaign finance disclosures

End-of-year reports contain plenty of oddities and curiosities


More than a few curiosities, oddities and abnormalities arose when presidential campaigns and super PACs filed their 2015 end-of-year campaign finance disclosures Sunday night.

Among the notable numbers the Center for Public Integrity flagged:

$4,769,923: Amount raked in by Eleventy Marketing, the top-paid vendor to Republican Ben Carson’s campaign during the fourth quarter of 2015, when Carson’s campaign spent nearly $5 million more than it raised. The Carson campaign raised about $54 million in 2015, mostly from small donors, but spent a big chunk of the money on fundraising expenses.

$1,019,469.74: What a super PAC backed by the National Nurses United union spent advocating for Bernie Sanders. Sanders’s disdain of big money politics hasn’t stopped super PACs from supporting him, with the National Nurses United for Patient Protection super PAC out in force. But while other super PACs are bankrolled by six- and seven-figure donations, all of the nurses’ union coffers are funded by “both mandatory and voluntary dues paid by its 185,000 members,” officials told the Washington Post.

$834,960: White House, red ink? Despite President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign using the “Democratic Hope Fund” to pay down lingering debt — Kanye West is helping! — the commander in chief remains saddled with six-figures worth of obligations. Most of it is owed to Perkins Coie LLP, a massive law firm whose political law practice leader, Marc Elias, is general counsel to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

$500,000: Value of a bank loan Democrat Martin O’Malley took out in December to keep his campaign afloat. With less than $170,000 cash on hand, the O’Malley campaign fell behind on paying senior staffers. Some relief arrived in January when the campaign took receipt of more than $846,000 in public matching funds and paid the loan off, O’Malley spokeswoman Haley Morris noted. The campaign has “actually seen an uptick in low-dollar fundraising since we announced we would be applying for public financing,” she said, although O’Malley’s poll numbers remain dismal.

$405,038: Money that Donald Trump’s campaign spent on hats from October through December. Trump’s old-school Make America Great Again lids have been a campaign staple.

$307,068: That’s how much Whole Foods cofounder John Mackey contributed to pro-Rand Paul super PAC Concerned American Voters. This may come as a surprise to some, but Mackey, a self-described “ethical vegan,” told Mother Jones that he “rejects the premise that liberal and libertarian values are necessarily in conflict.”

$288,387: The amount Right to Rise USA, the Jeb Bush-backing super PAC, paid a mysterious LLC linked to the Bush campaign’s national finance director. The arrangement makes it difficult to tell where the money is ultimately going.

$202,892: What Ready PAC, the supposedly defunct super PAC formerly known as Ready for Hillary PAC, earned by selling or renting supporters’ personal information to three other entities: the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Democratic operative-led PAC End Citizens United and Infogroup, which promotes “using big data to drive your business” to its clients. It spent more than $316,000 during the latter half of 2015, particularly on consultants, staffers and direct mail.

$167,401: Debt reported by Republican Rick Santorum’s flagging presidential campaign, which also disclosed having next to no cash on hand through Dec. 31. If there’s a silver lining in the 2016 edition of Santorum’s sweater vest, it’s this: His 2012 presidential campaign is still carrying more than $450,000 in debt.

$7,300: The amount Right to Rise PAC — the sister organization of pro-Bush super PAC Right to Rise USA — reported contributing to the re-election campaign of Sen. John McCain. The Arizona Republican and 2008 GOP presidential nominee had already endorsed fellow Sen. Lindsey Graham for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination when Right to Rise PAC made its contribution on July 31. But Graham quit the race in December — and endorsed Bush earlier this month.

$2,484: What Bush, in a Sunday night email to supporters, said was needed to avoid “not having the resources we need to turn out voters tomorrow” at the Iowa caucus. The email arrived the hour after pro-Bush super PAC Right to Rise USA reported having almost $58.6 million in reserve through December — more than any other super PAC in the nation.

$1,000: The largest “sacrifice” Sen. Ted Cruz asked supporters to make to his campaign by 11:59 p.m. Sunday night.

$251: The amount O’Malley’s campaign paid the Koch Brothers — not to be confused with David and Charles Koch, the billionaires that funnel millions of dollars into conservative causes. O’Malley instead paid Koch Brothers, an office furniture store in Des Moines, Iowa.

$20: Amount Democrat Lincoln Chafee’s presidential campaign, in its final days, paid out for a parking reimbursement at Washington, D.C.’s Newseum. The recipient? Chafee himself.

This story was co-published with the Huffington Post and Concord Monitor.

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