WASHINGTON – Jeb Bush has shattered political fundraising records with a $114-million haul in the first six months of the year, an extraordinary total designed to instill a sense of shock and awe into his Republican competitors.
Now Bush and his allies have to figure out how to spend it.
They reported Thursday they have collected more than $114 million through the end of June and reported $98 million in the bank, likely at least twice as much as his next closest Republican competitor and more than the outside group backing President Barack Obama in 2012 raised in two years.
“More than the symbolism of surpassing $100 million, the totals demonstrate Bush’s success charting new territory,” said Bush donor Mark Jacobs, a former Texas energy executive who now lives in Iowa. Bush’s team “has raised more and been more successful than any political organization ever.”
Yet in some ways, now the real test begins.
He helped raise the money, but Bush has no direct control over 90 percent of his new haul. The total announced Thursday includes $103 million raised by Right to Rise, a super PAC that will support Bush in the crowded GOP contest. The rest, $11.4 million, came into Bush’s formal campaign.
By law, the super PAC can’t take direction from Bush’s Miami-based campaign, and the two operations have limits on how they can communicate.
Based in Los Angeles, Right to Rise will handle a huge part of the costly work of running for president, including buying TV, online and radio commercials, conducting polling and even doing some organizing tasks such as voter outreach in early primary states. Bush’s official campaign and its markedly smaller bank account will pay for his travel and employee salaries, and give him a pot of money from which to craft messages exactly as he sees fit.
Designed with longtime aides Sally Bradshaw, who now leads the campaign, and Mike Murphy, who now leads the super PAC, it’s a strategy untested in modern politics.
Right to Rise already is advertising on Bush’s behalf. It has spent $47,000 so far on digital media, according to documents filed this week with the Federal Election Commission. The group has also inquired with broadcast and cable stations in the early primary states about booking TV ad time.
The campaign’s broader strategy – and continued fundraising efforts – will be a focus this weekend as Bush gathers with top donors at his family’s Kennebunkport, Maine, compound.
In exchange for gathering $27,000 worth of donations in the first 15 days of the campaign, donors were rewarded with an “evening picnic” with Bush and his parents, former President George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush, and a morning “political and campaign briefing” with senior campaign officials.
In announcing its fundraising Thursday, Right to Rise said it had about 9,400 donors who had given $25,000 or less, and about 500 who’d given more. Having made its mark in the big-money chase, the Bush campaign is focusing now on finding and cultivating small donors– people who would chip in $25 or so a few times over the Internet.
Separately, Jay Zeidman, a Houston-based fundraiser for Bush, said the campaign is focused on continuing to build on its initial $11.4 million because “those dollars are very, very important. It’s the front lines, the boots on the ground. The campaign is definitely front and center now.”
While the super PAC can accept unlimited donations, Bush’s formal campaign operates in far more restrictive territory. Individual donors can’t give more than $2,700 to the primary elections and, if Bush wins the GOP nomination, $2,700 he can spend in the general election.
In all, Bush’s campaign raised $11.4 million – or an average of $710,000 per day – through the end of June. The campaign touted that daily average as more than the average of $562,000 per day raised by Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton since she launched her campaign April 12. Clinton’s haul in that time totaled $45 million.