Money troubles appear to be the latest concern for at least a couple of the contenders in the Republican presidential primary, with both the Jeb Bush and Rick Perry campaigns reportedly ratcheting back spending, though for somewhat different reasons.
It’s ironic that the first presidential election in which the full effects of the Supreme Court’s rulings in both the Citizens United and McCutcheon cases are in effect should include high-profile candidates worried about spending. But while the 2016 campaign season will come with a tsunami of cash, in a political campaign, not all dollars are created equal.
It’s been clear for the past two weeks that Perry was facing major financial struggles, as reports leaked out that he could no longer pay his staffers and was being forced to slash spending. But the news got substantially grimmer for the former Texas governor on Monday, when it was announced that Sam Clovis, his campaign chairman in the key early caucus state of Iowa, had resigned.
Clovis, an early supporter of Perry, told The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker in June, “I'm a fighter pilot and I would fly his wing through the gates of hell. I mean that from the bottom of my heart.”
That resolve, however, didn’t survive Perry’s struggle to raise campaign cash and his missteps on the debate stage. Perry famously doomed his candidacy in 2012 with a halting performance at a debate and it was crucial he dismiss concerns that his performance four years ago was something other than an anomaly.
Perry failed to qualify for the main debate held earlier this month, and he performed poorly in the also-ran contest staged prior to the main event, playing exactly to type with long, confused answers and apparent son-sequiturs.
Perry still has the support of several reasonably well-funded super PACs, which could keep him in the race for some time. However, super PACs can’t spend money on some things that campaigns need to be competitive, like paid campaign staff, candidates’ travel expenses and efforts to get candidates on the ballot in the first place.
The story out of the Bush campaign is somewhat different. According to The New York Times, the campaign, as long as a few weeks ago, began cutting costs at the campaign level, even reducing compensation to paid staff.
The reasons for the Bush campaign’s decision to pare back spending appear to be rooted more in pragmatism than desperation. Bush had more than $8 million in campaign donations on hand at the end of June, and as the widely acknowledged establishment frontrunner, should have a relatively easy time raising more. He’s also backed by well over $100 million in super PAC dollars.
However, in terms of value to a campaign, a dollar given to the candidate is worth more than a dollar given to a super PAC. For one thing, candidates benefit from lower advertising rates than super PACs do, so each campaign dollar buys more exposure than each PAC dollar.
Additionally, if you believe that campaigns and super PACs are truly not coordinating their expenditures (an area where Bush, in particular, has pushed the limits) then it makes sense for candidates to hoard their campaign donations for use in targeted efforts down the road in what could be a long and bruising campaign.