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Super PAC money keeping candidates in race longer

The PACS of half of GOP presidential candidates, including John Kasich, have outraised their campaign committees.


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Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s presidential campaign committee raised nearly $4.4 million during the first quarter of its existence — a fine number, but dwarfed by the amounts raised by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, or Carly Fiorina.

But add in the money a super PAC supporting Kasich’s bid has raised, and Kasich is solidly in the middle of all presidential candidates for fundraising. That super PAC — New Day for America — raised well over $11 million, much of it from donors willing to write checks for an unlimited amount between April 20 and June 30 alone.

For candidates like Kasich, the 2016 presidential campaign has become a contest on two levels. First, there are the campaigns themselves — the official ones.

And then there are the super PACs.

Forbidden from working directly with the campaigns, they’ve nonetheless begun taking on some of the responsibilities of those campaigns. They’re the oomph behind the face on the campaign poster, often paying for things that the campaign itself cannot afford.

In Kasich’s case, New Day for America is contacting voters in New Hampshire and coordinating volunteers – in one case, sending 40 Ohio volunteers to New Hampshire for a three-day voter contact push. And combined with New Day Independent Media Committee, a separate pro-Kasich super PAC, the group plans to air $11.5 million on New Hampshire TV alone.

They’ve done this all without talking to the campaign; the group has what a spokesman calls “a very strict non-coordination policy.”

“If you’re a candidate who doesn’t have a significant super PAC or multiple super PACs supporting you, than you’re the oddball,” said Dave Levinthal, a senior political reporter at the Center for Public Integrity. “This is just standard operating procedure.”’

He and other critics say the consequence of such committee is that very wealthy donors can control whether a candidate rises or falls — and with that money comes an untold obligation.

Super PACs allow donors who are only permitted to give $2,700 to a candidate’s campaign committee per election cycle to give more to support a candidate — in some cases, up to $1 million. The down side of this: the candidate can’t, by law, control what happens to money donated to a super PAC.

“It’s pretty difficult to forget kindness in the form of seven-figure contributions,” Levinthal said.

But Bill Todd, a campaign finance lawyer from Columbus, said many billionaires, surprisingly, don’t feel as if they’re owed anything for their contributions.

“There are very few people who care at that level,” he said.

He specifically cited a billionaire who he worked with who dropped a million dollars in half a dozen races.

“I suspect he never even talked to the candidates, and never will,” he said. “For him, it’s like playing FanDuel.”

For his part, Kasich, proclaims no awareness of what the organization does, saying there’s a “Chinese wall” between his campaign and the super PAC.

“I don’t have any awareness of what’s going on with the super PAC,” he said, when questioned about it during a recent trip to New Hampshire. “I hope they’re doing a good job. I just don’t know. “

The prominence of these organizations has evolved from 2012, when both Republicans Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum’s bids for the White House got a boost from outside money and when two major super PACs supporting Democrat Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney weighed in primarily during the general election.

Now, such committees are almost pro forma. Of the eight GOP candidates who took the stage at last week’s Fox Business debate, half have super PACs that have outraised their campaign committees.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is a good example: According to the Center for Public Integrity, his campaign has raised $24.8 million. His super PACs have taken in $103 million.

On the flip side, candidates who would otherwise flag early may get a benefit from such groups. Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry struggled to raise money, raising only $1.43 million during his campaign, but a super PAC that raised $12.8 million for him may have kept his campaign alive for longer than it otherwise might have.

“I believe it’s a sign of a weak campaign if all that’s keeping you alive is unlimited donations,” said Democrat Seth Bringman, who worked on Ready for Hillary, a super PAC that aimed to organize grassroots for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton before she ran.Outliers remain. Billionaire Donald Trump shut down his super PAC; Ben Carson’s campaign committee has far outraised his super PACS. Democrat Bernie Sanders also is only relying on his campaign committee to finance his campaign.

But Todd said super PACs are an increasing go-to for candidates.

He said such committees are an arm of a campaign, despite the rules barring coordination. Much like a business would, he said, campaigns must think about how best to match resources with needs.

“Especially with a presidential campaign, you have to build a billion dollar business a year and what it comes down to is you need to be smart about it,” he said.

The rules, he said, are focused on “messaging.” That leaves a lot of room for super PACs to do the other stuff of a campaign — polling, get out the vote efforts, administrative work. Campaigns, then, can use most of their money on campaign ads.

“Let’s say you have a guy willing to give $20 million,” he said. “You can use those dollars out of the super PACS to do something that otherwise the campaign would have to pay for. You’re better off.”

Todd said the only reason candidates have to raise so much money is because of the high cost of running TV ads. Many TV stations, he said, jack up their prices during an election year, effectively keeping all but the most financially successful candidates from advertising.

“They’re more powerful than anybody,” he said. “By raising prices, they have squeezed a lot of people out of the system.”