Peter Overby

Organizing for Action, the grass-roots network born from the Obama campaigns, is now deep in the battle over confirming the president's nominee to the Supreme Court. These days, OFA is a nonprofit that organizes on progressive issues and trains future grass-roots gurus.

"You know this is very much an organization that is led by people out in their communities who care about the issues of the day," said Buffy Wicks, a member of OFA's board of advisers and a veteran of Obama's two presidential campaigns and his White House.

Police needed most of Monday afternoon to arrest all of the sit-down protesters outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington at a demonstration in favor of changing the rules on political money, voting rights and redistricting.

The politicians who would be president have a lot to say about money, at least when they're soliciting it.

They and their sidekick superPACs have raised a combined total of around $1 billion, according to NPR calculations from data compiled by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

The politicians who would be president have a lot to say about money, at least when they're soliciting it.

They and their sidekick superPACs have raised a combined total of around $1 billion, according to NPR calculations from data compiled by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

It was raining lightly when marchers of the Democracy Spring coalition set out Saturday, trudging past Independence Hall in Philadelphia on their way south toward Washington, D.C.

"I came on the train. Two days. Slept in the train station last night," Miram Kashia said, laughing. A self-proclaimed climate action warrior, she traveled from North Liberty, Iowa. She blamed political money's influence for blocking action on the climate, and added, "I'm retired but it's a full time job for me, being an activist."

As Ted Cruz insists he can still overtake GOP front-runner Donald Trump and win the Republican nomination outright, the Texas senator has an innovative and well-funded alliance of superPACs supporting his effort.

It's never clear what the truth is when a campaign ends, but it gets ugly.

Major fundraisers are among the people who are key in creating a campaign. And when campaigns fold, they talk sometimes — usually in blind quotes.

But one of the funders, who helped raise millions of dollars for a superPAC supporting Jeb Bush, talked on the record with NPR's Morning Edition -- and gave his version of what he felt went wrong.

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The presidential candidates are wrestling with the issue of political money, which emerged as a bigger issue this cycle than in any presidential race since the 1970s.

Bernie Sanders started last week's Democratic debate with this point: "We have today a campaign finance system which is corrupt, which is undermining American democracy, which allows Wall Street and billionaires to pour huge sums of money into the political process."

And Hillary Clinton, closing the debate, said, "We agree that we've gotta get unaccountable money out of politics."

Here's a question for New Hampshire voters. Would you have voted for Jeb Bush if he'd given you $1,086?

Bush didn't offer that, obviously. But that's the amount his campaign and superPAC spent on TV ads in New Hampshire for each vote Bush received in the primary on Tuesday.

The Takeaways:

  • Republican candidates raised more than $227 million in 2015, less than the GOP field raised in 2011.
  • The year-end reports include the first disclosure of big money from Donald Trump and reveal the precarious state of Jeb Bush's White House bid.
  • Some wealthy conservative donors, including Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson, haven't put their money behind any GOP candidate yet. Big donors on the Democratic side are behind Hillary Clinton.

Update at at 6:30 p.m. ET on Friday: Sen. Ted Cruz gave the Federal Election Commission an accounting of his campaign loans Thursday evening. The Cruz for Senate treasurer acknowledged in a letter that Cruz's loans to the campaign were underwritten by a margin loan from Goldman Sachs, where his wife is a managing director, and a line of credit from Citibank.

When this presidential campaign got underway last spring, the buzz was that a candidate would be propelled by passing off the heavy costs of TV advertising to a friendly superPAC. But now the opposite is true.

Donald Trump, leading the Republican field, has no superPAC. Some other superPACs are pouring cash into TV, but their candidates are stuck low in the polls.

Trump just recently started buying TV time, after months of depending on news coverage to promote his campaign.

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Earlier this month, Hillary Clinton attended her first event for an organization called the Hillary Victory Fund. About 160 guests attended, and the event grossed more than $5 million.

The Hillary Victory Fund is a joint fundraising committee for Hillary for America, the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic committees of 32 states and Puerto Rico.

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Florida mailman and gyrocopter pilot Doug Hughes has pleaded guilty to one felony for his campaign-finance reform caper last April. He landed his flying machine on the Capitol lawn before authorities apprehended him.

He meant to deliver individual letters to all senators and House members, urging them to clamp down on superPACs, "dark money" groups and millionaire donors. That didn't work out. He was arrested; Capitol police confiscated the letters and prosecutors hit him with six charges.

The superPAC backing Jeb Bush seemed to have everything it needed. It went into the primaries with the most money by far. Right to Rise USA had raised $103 million by June 30, with plenty of help from Bush before he officially announced his candidacy and could no longer legally ask for big contributions.

In September, Right to Rise put the money to work, announcing it would buy $24 million worth of TV ads in the first three nominating states: Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

Bernie Sanders proudly says he doesn't have a superPAC — one of those unshackled political committees that raise and spend unlimited money that the candidate couldn't accept.

Donald Trump has run his presidential campaign by his own rules, and he's blown past traditional candidates, playing by the old rules, in the process.

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The presidential campaigns reported their latest fundraising totals last night, and some were also talking about how wisely they're spending their donors' money. Here's NPR's Peter Overby.

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Late August may be the absolutely worst time to launch a political TV blitz. But a Democratic superPAC, Priorities USA Action, is offering up a minicampaign this week and next, warning Republicans that their heated rhetoric on immigration is captured on videotape and being prepped for prime time later in the race.

When billionaire developer Donald Trump entered the presidential race two months ago, he drew a sharp line between other candidates — needy candidates, always trading favors for money — and himself.

"I'm really rich. I assure you of that," he said as supporters cheered. "And by the way, I'm not even saying that in a bragga — that's the kind of mindset, that's the kind of thinking, you need for this country."

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It was hard not to notice Rick Perry's plight last month, when the Republican presidential campaigns filed their financial disclosures. The former Texas governor's total take so far is $1.1 million. Cash on hand as of June 30 was $884,000. For comparison, fellow Texan Sen. Ted Cruz's campaign raised $14.3 million, with $8.5 million on hand.

But even as Perry For President Inc. is cutting its payroll, his people have a rescue plan. If it works, it's likely to set a new standard for how presidential campaigns are financed.

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