The 2016 presidential election could cost as much as $5 billion, according to top fundraisers and bundlers who are already predicting it will more than double the 2012 campaign’s price tag.
Behind-the-scenes jockeying to raise big bucks from bundlers connected to super-PACs and third-party groups is well underway, even with no top-tier candidates officially in the race.
Potential candidates with proven fundraising prowess, such as 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, are throwing political elbows at each other to secure donors’ money at an early stage in the race.
And then there’s Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonTrump gives Lester Holt a C grade for debate Congress departs for recess until after Election Day House approves stopgap funding, averting costly shutdown MORE.
Don Peebles, the real estate mogul and top political fundraiser who served on President Obama’s national finance committee, predicted that Clinton would see “significant fundraising …[and] record-breaking financial reports.”
“She has a very strong capacity to raise significant funds,” Peebles said.
Peebles also said that Bush is a “tremendous and effective fundraiser” and could give Clinton a run for the money.
“I sense a lot of excitement about his candidacy,” Peebles said. “I see that in Florida and I’m seeing that in New York.”
When all is said and done, Peebles predicted that the presidential race could come close to tallying $5 billion in total, between the campaigns, party funds, independent expenditures and third parties.
That would be about double the estimated $2.6 billion cost of the 2012 campaign.
Romney’s campaign spent $433.3 million in 2012, while outside groups and the Republican Party helped push the GOP’s 2012 presidential total to $1.24 billion, according to Federal Election Commission filings from the Center for Responsive Politics.
Obama’s reelection campaign spent $683.5 million, with the Democratic Party and outside groups pushing the total to $1.1 billion, according to FEC filings.
Not everyone thinks the totals will rise to that level.
“I’ll be very surprised if it’s more than $3 billion,” predicted another major Democratic fundraiser.
Still, Clinton is looking to make up for past mistakes, and Bush, Romney and Christie are already competing over Republican donors.
“The 2016 election cycle will be more compact for Republicans, which makes early money even more important,” one top Republican fundraiser said.
Republicans say they aren’t worried about matching Clinton, with one GOP strategist who works at a super-PAC saying his party’s candidates will match “dollar for dollar” whatever Clinton and Democrats raise.
“You can bet it will be more than it was in 2012,” the super-PAC adviser said. “That’s the trend line we’ve seen.”
In 2008, Barack ObamaBarack ObamaFirst lady slams Trump's 'birther' comments Obama's contradictory stance toward black asylum seekers Webb: After the debate MORE’s campaign ran circles around Clinton’s campaign in raising money from digital advertising and small-dollar donors.
But Team Clinton — which raised nearly $230 million in 2008 — is off to a promising start as it looks to remedy those problems.
One close ally familiar with fundraising said it was possible she could raise $800 million from digital advertising alone in 2016.
“That’s a really realistic goal,” the ally said.
The super-PAC Ready for Hillary has raised more than $11 million, mostly through small-dollar donations. Another outside group, Priorities USA Action, which helped raise and spend more than $65 million for Obama during the 2012 cycle, has also committed to backing Clinton.
Team Clinton will most definitely have a website where supporters can “join” her campaign. They will then be asked to make donations.
Adam Green, co-founder of the liberal Progressive Change Campaign Committee PAC, which is pressing for candidates to adopt progressive policies more aligned with Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenWarren: Clinton is 'acutely aware' of Trump's voter appeal on trade Democrats press Wells Fargo CEO for more answers on scandal Brent Budowsky: Sanders and Warren shine MORE (D-Mass.), said there’s “definitely” space for a viable Clinton alternative despite her fundraising prowess.
“The big money matters more in the presidential race after New Hampshire and Iowa,” said Green.
He said Clinton could scare off challengers not by raising money but by reaching out to progressives.
“Clinton can close that political space by following the Warren wing,” Green said. “Early money is important for credibility but the big issue comes when a candidate cuts corners on policy to get more big money. That’s the problem.”
Peebles, for his part, said the sense that Clinton is an inevitable candidate and front-runner might help her initially in the fundraising fight, but could be a problem down the road.
“I think that there is more of bandwagon mentality right now,” he said, adding that it’s similar to the way donors felt in 2007 and 2008. “There’s a sense of inevitability, and that cuts both ways. There are those who want to back a winner and hop on, and those who are resentful of a coronation.”
WHO SPENT WHAT
Mitt Romney’s campaign spent $433 million in 2012, while outside groups and the Republican Party helped push the GOP’s 2012 presidential total to $1.24 billion, according to Federal Election Commission filings from the Center for Responsive Politics.
President Obama’s reelection campaign spent $683 million, and the Democratic Party and outside groups pushed the total to $1.1 billion, according to FEC filings.
Then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) spent $730 million on the presidential election; while Sen. John McCainJohn McCainOvernight Defense: Congress overrides Obama 9/11 veto | Pentagon breathes easy after funding deal | More troops heading to Iraq McCain comments won't derail Bergdahl case Senators already eyeing changes to 9/11 bill after veto override MORE (R-Ariz.) spent $333 million.
President George W. Bush spent $367
million while then-Sen. John KerryJohn KerryOvernight Defense: Congress overrides Obama 9/11 veto | Pentagon breathes easy after funding deal | More troops heading to Iraq McCain, Graham mock Kerry's threat to end talks with Russia The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (D-Mass.) spent $328 million.
George W. Bush spent $185 million while
then-Vice President Gore spent $120 million.
Updated at 8:34 p.m.