The financing of candidates’ campaigns has become a central theme of the primaries, although — aside from Trump’s truth-adjacent claims that he is self-financing his bid — Republicans mention the topic significantly less often than do Democrats. We offer this analysis of the veracity of statements by various candidates aiming for the White House.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)
Feb. 20, 2016
“On super Tuesday and before, we are going to be taking on a very powerful and well funded super PAC, a super PAC that receives significant amounts of money from Wall Street and special interests.”
That’s true. There are several super PACs supporting (and some opposing) Sanders’ rival, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. However, the super PAC Sanders is referring to, Priorities USA Action, is by far the largest; having raised over $50 million so far. The securities and investment industry – CRP parlance for Wall Street – has contributed $14.7 million to Priorities and is by far its largest donor.
Feb. 11, 2016
“In this campaign, super PACs have raised more money than individual candidates have.”
False. Clinton’s campaign has raised $130.4 million. Outside groups that specifically support her presidential bid have raised $57.7 million, Center for Responsive Politics data show. Of the Republican candidates who remain in the race, Sanders’ statement also doesn’t apply to neurosurgeon Ben Carson, businessman Donald Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas) or Ohio Gov. John Kasich. It also appears not to be true of Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.),though just barely, and that’s not counting a 501(c)(4) group that doesn’t disclose its donors and won’t reveal even how much it raised until next year. Sanders was right when it came to several candidates who are not in the race any longer — most spectacularly Jeb Bush, who was still running when Sanders spoke. According to the most recent reports available, Bush had raised $33,512,524 for his campaign, while his super PAC, Right to Rise, raised $118,685,857 Bush raised most of that Right to Rise money himself before he officially declared his candidacy.
Feb. 9, 2016
“I do not have a super PAC, and I do not want a super PAC.”
Technically false. Center for Responsive Politics data show that there have been two super PACs supporting Sanders — Collective Actions PAC and Feel the Bern– but, to be fair to Sanders, they’ve raised a thimbleful of money compared with most of the other super PACs: $24,017 combined. And Sanders has not had anything to do with those groups; they are not staffed by his former employees or consultants, as is true of most of the large presidential single-candidate super PACs working on behalf of Sanders’ Democratic and Republican competition.
Sanders has come under scrutiny for his claim that he doesn’t have a super PAC because National Nurses United , a labor union with a super PAC, publicly supports him and runs ads on his behalf. CRP doesn’t classify Nurses United as a single-candidate super PAC, since getting Sanders elected isn’t their end game; supporting nurses is. In this election so far, it has determined that Sanders is the candidate who best aligns with its interests, but in the past, it has supported a variety of candidates.
Feb. 4, 2016
“What being part of the establishment is, is, in the last quarter, having a super PAC that raised $15 million from Wall Street, that throughout one’s life raised a whole lot of money from the drug companies and other special interests.”
Sanders’ statement is only partly true. Clinton and the super PACs supporting her have raised over $18 million from the securities and investment industry, which includes Goldman Sachs and other titans of Wall Street. For Priorities USA alone, the number is about $14.7 million — although when Sanders spoke, the most recent reported figure was only $13.7 million. During Clinton’s career in the Senate, she raised $14.7 million from that industry.
The pharmaceuticals industry didn’t even break into the top echelons of those giving to Clinton in her Senate years. It has contributed just $1.2 million to her campaign and super PACs this cycle, making it the 19th largest donor group to those committees. Relatively speaking, that’s not a lot of money.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
Feb. 11, 2016
“I debated then Senator Obama numerous times on stages like this, and he was the recipient of the largest number of Wall Street donations of anybody running on the Democratic side ever.”
This is true. In 2008, Barack Obama received nearly $16.6 million from the securities and investment industry. Clinton was second for bringing in the most in Wall Street donations, receiving more than $7.3 million.
Feb. 4, 2016
“Citizens United, one of the worst Supreme Court decisions in our country’s history, was actually a case about a right-wing attack on me and my campaign. A right-wing organization took aim at me and ended up damaging our entire democracy.”
The Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC did indeed spring from an effort by a then little-known conservative nonprofit to air an on-demand TV movie, Hillary: The Movie, during the presidential primaries in 2008. A lower court initially ruled against Citizens United, the nonprofit, and for the Federal Election Commission. Citizens United appealed that decision to the Supreme Court, which heard oral argument twice — reframing the central questions in the case after the first time. The high court ruled in the group’s favor, saying the First Amendment required that corporations be allowed to spend money in elections; as long as the money was spent independently and didn’t go directly to a candidate, the opinion said, it would not be a corrupting influence. Disclosure, noted the court, would prevent any problems.
Whether the decision has “damag[ed] our entire democracy” or not is a matter of opinion. However, since the ruling, CRP data shows there has been a boom in activity by super PACs that can take and spend unlimited amounts of money, as well as by politically active tax-exempt nonprofits that can do the same but don’t have to disclose their donors.
Businessman Donald Trump
Feb. 25, 2016
“I filed — which shows that I’m worth over $10 billion. I built a great company with very little debt…And that’s where you find out what kind of a company. You don’t learn anything from a tax return.”
False on two fronts: His personal disclosure form doesn’t show how much Trump is actually worth and neither will his tax return, but his tax return would be more specific in some areas. Trump lists several LLC companies on his personal disclosure form associated with a range of incomes (for example, rent can be reported in a categorical range from $100,001- $1 million).
If he released his full tax filing, one would learn how much each LLC specifically earned, and some nuances behind those LLCs. However, aggregating that report would still give just snapshot of income that doesn’t relate very well to valuation, according to Donald Marron, a corporate and business taxation expert at the Tax Policy Center. Marron gave an example to illustrate his point: “Amazon is worth 264 billion dollars but that’s almost 500 times what its earnings are.” On its tax return, Amazon would list its earnings, not its valuation.
Trump to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas): “I funded you. I funded him. Can you believe it?”
Cruz: “Yeah, you gave me $5,000.”
This is true. Trump gave $5,000 to Cruz’s leadership PAC in 2014.
Feb. 20, 2016
“I’m self-funding my campaign. I’m not getting millions of dollars from all of these. I’m not getting millions of dollars from all of these special interests and lobbyists and donors that once they get it, they literally do whatever the politicians want. That’s not going to happen.”
This claim, oft repeated by the candidate, falls somewhere in the peat bog of truthiness. Donald Trump is contributing very little to his own campaign, but he is providing most of his campaign’s money thus far in the form of loans. He is loaning money to his organization, which is not the same thing.
In fact, Trump only gave his campaign $250,318 between April 2015 and the end of January. Meanwhile, he loaned his campaign $17.5 million in that same period. Unlike candidate contributions, candidate loans can one day be paid back with funds raised from other individuals or PACs. Trump could forgive the loans at some point, but until then he retains the ability to pay himself back.
At this point, Trump has raised $5.6 million in $200-and-under donations and $1.9 million in gifts greater than $200 — he’s far from the only one financing his campaign — but that’s not enough, at this point, to erase the loans. However, he could begin raising substantially more if, as predicted, he comes out a big winner on Super Tuesday.
There are also a few active super PACs supporting Trump that have raised a combined $1.9 million in support of his campaign.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas)
Feb. 20, 2016
“And tonight despite millions and millions of dollars of false and nasty attacks, despite the entirety of the political establishment coming together against us, South Carolina has given us another remarkable result…Other candidates engage in non-stop personal attacks. We have not and we will not respond in kind.”
As far as single-candidate super PAC spending goes, the statement is false. Single-candidate super PACs supporting Cruz have spent nearly $7.4 million attacking Clinton, Sanders, Rubio and Trump. Most of that money – $4.6 million and $2.6 million – has gone towards attacking Rubio and Trump, respectively. On the flip side, considerably less money, about $5.3 million, has gone to attacking Cruz.
Single-candidate super PACs supporting Trump have not attacked Cruz at all, whereas, those supporting Rubio have spent almost as much money attacking Cruz as the super PACs supporting Cruz spent attacking Rubio. We should point out that super PACs aren’t allowed to coordinate with candidates, so in theory, these groups have nothing to do with the candidates they support.
Feb 18, 2016
“Donald, for the last four decades has written checks to Democrats over, and over, and over again. From Jimmy Carter, to Hillary Clinton, to John Kerry, to Chuck Schumer, to Harry Reid.”
This is true as far as we can tell. While CRP records don’t go back to President Jimmy Carter’s era, they do show that Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) received $5,500 from Trump; Clinton has received a total of $700; Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has received $8,900; and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has received $9,400.