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Aug. 19 — Combined campaign fundraising through the first half this year by the Democratic and Republican presidential nominees, their national party committees and super political action committees was about 15 percent below the amount of money raised at the same point in the 2012 presidential election cycle, according to a new analysis.
Fundraising in support of Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump totaled nearly $851.5 million as of June 30, according to the analysis of Federal Election Commission reports by the nonprofit Campaign Finance Institute. That compared to nearly $1.1 billion in combined presidential fundraising at the same point in 2012 campaign.
New fundraising reports for July, set to be filed with the FEC Aug. 20, are expected to add significantly to fundraising totals.
The main reason for this year's presidential fundraising decline, so far, is that Trump's campaign and supporting committees raised far less money than the 2012 Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, according to CFI's figures. Combined fundraising for Trump totaled $285.2 million through the first half of this year, compared to $515.9 for Romney at the same point in the campaign.
Fundraising in support of Clinton was $566.3 million, just less than the $569.4 million level reached by President Barack Obama at this point in the 2012 campaign.
Low approval ratings for both Trump and Clinton may be part of the reason why candidate and party fundraising figures are not rising in this election cycle, as they have in the past, according to Michael Malbin, CFI's executive director and a professor of political science at the State University of New York's University at Albany.
But, Malbin said, there appears to be even wider disillusionment with politics among campaign contributors as a whole. He noted that total fundraising for congressional candidates and most party committees also is down this year from previous levels, something that has rarely, if ever, happened before.
“I think you're seeing a general lack of enthusiasm about politics … , not only the presidential candidates,” Malbin told Bloomberg BNA in a phone interview.
The diminished support for candidates and parties by campaign contributors giving them limited, direct contributions has given greater relative influence to super PACs and other outside groups, which can take unlimited money for efforts not formally coordinated with a candidate or party.
Fundraising and spending by outside groups is running at a record pace this year, according to FEC reports analyzed by the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics. The total of $575. 7 million in “independent expenditures” reported, so far, is far more than double the $225 million in such expenditures at the same point in 2012.
The presidential fundraising figures compiled by CFI combined the totals raised by each candidate's campaign committee, main super PAC, joint fundraising committee and national party committee. Trump was behind Clinton in each of these totals, except the party committee. The Republican National Committee had raised $170.5 million through the first half of the year, compared to $93.7 million for the Democratic National Committee.
CFI noted, however, that questions have been raised about how much of the RNC money will be available to support Trump because some Republicans have suggested that the party withhold money from the presidential nominee to spend on down-ballot races. Additionally, Trump's joint fundraising committee with the RNC—unlike Clinton's—has been raising money for the party's building fund and the recount/legal fund, and those funds are restricted to those uses.
In presidential election years, the RNC and DNC normally dedicate their resources to electing the party’s nominees for president, and as a result, the party committees typically see a spike in fundraising as they gear up to help their nominees in the general election.
This cycle, however, the DNC has lagged significantly behind its own previous fundraising totals in past presidential elections and is down 46 percent from its 2012 level, according to CFI. The RNC is also behind its 2012 totals, but by only 18 percent. Neither committee had significant sums of cash on hand as of June 30, the CFI analysis said, and when the DNC’s debts were taken into account, it was more than $1 million in the red.
The decline in party committee fundraising was somewhat surprising because it came after new congressional legislation in later 2014 to boost the parties by allowing them to raise hundreds of thousand of dollars more per contributor through special accounts for conventions, headquarters buildings, and recounts and legal costs.
The CFI analysis found the RNC has built up a large advantage in fundraising for these new accounts, raising more than $55 million dollars for them compared to only $9.2 million for the Democrats. The decline in RNC and DNC fundraising from the last presidential election, when they were not allowed to raise these large sums from individual donors, is even more pronounced when these accounts are removed from the totals, CFI said.
Also down from the last presidential election are receipts from joint fundraising committees established by the parties and their presidential nominees.
By June 30th of the 2012 cycle, the DNC had received $67 million from the Obama Victory Fund 2012 and the RNC had received $53 million from Romney Victory Inc, CFI said. For 2016, with a late-starting committee established by the RNC and Trump, Trump Victory Inc., passed only $10.1 million to the RNC as of June 30.
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