7 things to watch at fundraising deadline

7 things to watch at fundraising deadline
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On the eve of Monday’s Iowa caucuses, campaigns and super-PACs are due to make an important set of financial disclosures. 

The reports will at last show how much money the presidential candidates officially raised and spent in the final quarter of 2015, giving a sense of their abilities to sustain themselves through a tough primary season. 

And the super-PACs, which can raise and spend unlimited amounts so long as they don’t formally coordinate with the candidates, will provide the first glimpse of their balance sheets in six months.

Here are seven things to watch for in the upcoming fundraising reports.

1. How much is left in Right to Rise’s bank account?

Remember when Jeb Bush was the near-anointed candidate of the Republican establishment and the pro-Bush forces were so confident about their fundraising potential that wealthy supporters were asked not to give more than $1 million early on?

It was only six months ago that Bush-aligned super-PAC Right to Rise disclosed its midyear haul of $103 million, a record fundraising figure in the era of unlimited super-PAC spending.

But since July, the political action committee has spent at least $55 million on advertising, including $20 million worth of attack ads on former Bush protégé Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioSenate rejects effort to boost Congress's national security oversight The Memo: Summit gives Trump political boost — with risks The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump, Kim make history with summit MORE, according  to an NBC analysis. This aggressive spending has unnerved many wealthy donors, who are unhappy that Bush has only gone down in the polls and that so much money is being spent against Rubio, whom many Bush donors like.

Right to Rise’s fundraisers are having a tougher time bringing in the large checks that flowed so easily when Bush first entered the race. When the numbers are released Sunday, donors and rival campaigns will be analyzing Right to Rise’s ledger to assess Bush’s viability as the voting gets underway. 

2. How much money have pro-Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzUS-China trade war is just the start of the struggle for global order Dem lawmaker: Migrant family separation policy 'is on all of us' Cruz wins charity basketball challenge against Jimmy Kimmel MORE super-PACs raised? 

Establishment Republicans — and many Democrats — were stunned by the fundraising hauls from the four main super-PACs supporting Ted Cruz in last year’s July reports. Until that point in the race, the Texas senator was largely an afterthought. 

The main super-PACs, all named some form of “Keep the Promise,” raised more than $37 million through mid-2015, with most of it coming from just a few individuals. New York hedge fund manager Robert Mercer threw in $11 million; the families of Texas fracking billionaires Farris and Daniel Wilks gave $15 million; and energy investor Toby Neugebauer gave $10 million. 

Those millions came in before Cruz surged to near the top of the polls, so it is possible — even likely — that vastly more money has landed since then. 

The question is not only how much more has been raised, but how many more donors have come to Cruz’s aid. And unlike Right to Rise, the Cruz super-PACs have been spending very little, meaning Sunday’s reports might reveal him to be the best-financed Republican in the race.

3. Which GOP establishment candidate is best-positioned to sustain through a potentially long and arduous primary season? 

With Cruz and Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpEx-ethics chief calls on Trump to end 'monstrous' migrant policies Laura Bush blasts Trump migrant policy as 'cruel' and 'immoral' US denies report of coalition airstrike on Syria MORE battling for first place in the Republican primaries, the fight is on among those vying to emerge as the consensus alternative to the two outsiders.

Rubio, Bush, John Kasich and Chris Christie are whacking each other with increasing ferocity, and they all appear to be pinning their hopes on a strong performance among the more moderate voters in the New Hampshire primary. 

While all of these candidates have well-funded super-PACs, they will also need enough money in their campaign accounts to sustain them through a primary battle that could stretch well beyond the first few state contests.

 4. What kind of a campaign infrastructure has Donald Trump built?

It’s no secret that Trump is running one of the more unconventional presidential campaigns in recent memory.  

While other candidates, such as Democratic front-runner Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThere are many unanswered questions about FBI culture FBI agent who sent anti-Trump texts offers to testify on Capitol Hill Giuliani wants 'full and complete' investigation into Russia probe's origins MORE, have been building traditional campaign operations, hiring dozens of staffers across the country and spending millions on salaries, some of the largest expenditures seen in Trump’s filings up until October were on baseball caps and other merchandise.   

Sunday’s report should indicate how much Trump’s campaign has shifted toward conventional infrastructure, as well as what kind of a ground game the billionaire has built across the country. This data could tell us something about the Trump campaign’s staying power and capacity to rebound from potential early losses. 

5. What kind of a campaign infrastructure has Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) Sanders If Congress takes no action, the Social Security trust fund will become depleted in 2034 Ex-campaign manager: Sanders is still eying another presidential bid DNC chair backing plan to cut superdelegates opposed by Dem lawmakers MORE built?

If it weren’t for a certain reality TV star, the biggest story of the 2016 campaign would be the unexpected success of a 74-year-old Vermont senator who embraces the term “democratic socialist” to describe his political philosophy. 

But while Clinton’s team was quick to invest heavily in paid ground presences in early-voting states, Sanders was relatively late to the game.

In Nevada, for example, Sanders relied almost entirely on volunteers until late October.

Since then, as Sanders has surged in the polls, his campaign has been making up for lost time and has been spending millions of dollars to expand a nationwide infrastructure that can compete with Clinton’s formidable get-out-the-vote forces.

Sunday’s expenditure report will provide the most detailed snapshot so far of Sanders’s operation and will illuminate his capacity to compete against Clinton in the event of a drawn-out nominating contest for the Democrats.

6. Has Clinton expanded her small-dollar donor base?

Clinton has been running a strikingly different fundraising operation than Sanders has.

The Vermont senator points with pride at having raised nearly all his money online in small increments. He points to Clinton’s big-money donors — and her supporting super-PACs — as proof that she’s in the pocket of the wealthy.

While the former secretary of State has raised funds using multi-decade ties to the richest sources of political cash in the Democratic Party, raising more money in the last quarter from small-money donors could help offset Sanders’s criticism.

The Sunday fundraising reports will show the extent to which Clinton is broadening her fundraising base.

7. To what extent is Donald Trump self-funding?

While Trump frequently promotes the fact that he is paying for his campaign and not accepting super-PAC donations, the truth is more complicated. So far, at least, the majority of money spent by Trump on his campaign has come from donors. He has spent little of his own fortune and relied to a large extent on constant cable news coverage to spread his message. 

But with Trump starting to buy television advertising in early-voting states and building out a campaign infrastructure across the nation,  Sunday’s reports will give a sense of how much of his bid has been self-funded. Those numbers, however, will only cover up until Dec. 31, so the extent of Trump’s more recent spending will remain partly obscured.