Politics & Government

Clinton is raising millions more for Democrats than Sanders is

Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks to his campaign volunteers at the local headquarters on Wednesday, May 4, 2016, in Bowling Green, Ky. (Miranda Pederson/Daily News via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks to his campaign volunteers at the local headquarters on Wednesday, May 4, 2016, in Bowling Green, Ky. (Miranda Pederson/Daily News via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT AP

WASHINGTON -- Both candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination opened accounts to raise money for the party. Here's the tally so far: Hillary Clinton, $46 million; Bernie Sanders, $0.

Clinton, a former senator and secretary of state, has headlined a half-dozen fundraisers -- one at movie star George Clooney's home, another at a Radio City Music Hall concert with pop star Katy Perry -- to raise money for national and state parties.

Sanders, an independent senator, has not organized any fundraisers for the party, nor has he raised any money through emails or ads. He has accused the Democratic Party of favoring Clinton in the contest and, in recent days, has accused her of spending money she raises for the party to help herself.

"It's unfortunate that Hillary Clinton has benefited from tens of millions of dollars in cash transfers and advertising to campaign against us in the primary," said Jeff Weaver, Sanders' campaign manager.

The Clinton campaign pushed back on that accusation. "They're questioning our joint fundraising agreement with the DNC, which allows us to support Democrats running up and down the ticket -- the same fundraising structure used by President Obama in 2008 and 2012," Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook wrote to supporters.

Democratic National Committee officials say the money is spent to compile lists of voters, recruit volunteers, register voters and pay for digital ads, training, research and communications.

Joint fundraising committees have been around for more than a dozen years, but the ones created this election cycle are the first since a Supreme Court decision and congressional action boosted the amount that donors could give to federal campaigns in a single year.

Campaign finance watchdog groups fought the changes, arguing that raising the caps could allow presidential candidates to essentially raise money for themselves.

"This is exactly what we worried about," said Stephen Spaulding, policy counsel at Common Cause, a nonpartisan group. He said massive contributions had allowed some money to be returned to the candidate that solicited the money in the first place.

Republican candidates have not yet opened joint fundraising committees this year, though previous candidates -- including 2012 nominee Mitt Romney -- had them.

In 2008, the leading candidates for the Democratic nomination, Clinton and Barack Obama, together raised $10 million for the party. After securing the nomination, Obama raised $198 million for the party. In 2012, as president, Obama raised $452 million.

This election cycle, Clinton opened the Hillary Victory Fund in September, the earliest start of such a committee. Thirty-two states' parties -- including Florida, North Carolina and Texas -- signed on. Eighteen states -- including California, Washington and Kansas -- did not.

Officials at several states' parties declined to say why they did not join, but Democrats say some of them were concerned it would appear as if they were endorsing Clinton or that it would hurt their own efforts to raise money.

Individuals can contribute $2,700 to Clinton's campaign for the primary election and another $2,700 for the general election. Her joint committee, on the other hand, can accept donations of up to $356,100 each year. The first $2,700 goes to the campaign, the next $33,400 to the DNC and the remainder -- up to $10,000 -- to each participating state party.

The setup means Clinton can benefit from low-dollar contributions through the committee. The Hillary Victory Fund raised $61 million through the end of March, according to reports filed with the Federal Elections Commission. About $46 million went to the party; the rest to the Clinton campaign.

"It's yet another pocket for you to put money into," said Meredith McGehee, policy director at the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization. "These are the vehicles for big donors. It makes a mockery of the contribution limits. It undermines it."

Campaign finance records show that much of the money sent to state parties was transferred to the DNC, which is gearing up for the general election up and down the ballot.

Kenneth Pennington, Sanders' campaign digital director, said the campaign was not critical of all fundraising agreements. But it is critical of Clinton's because state parties aren't keeping much money and because it raises money from donors who have already contributed the maximum to Clinton's campaign.

Clinton has collected money primarily at the fundraisers. On April 16, 150 people attended events at the Los Angeles homes of Clooney and film producer Jeffrey Katzenberg. On April 10, 525 attended a fundraiser at the home of Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe that featured a performance by singer Carole King. On March 2, 6,000 people attended an event at Radio City Music Hall that included appearances by movie stars Jamie Foxx and Julianne Moore and singers Perry, Elton John and Andra Day.

Clinton has collected checks from billionaire investor George Soros; Alice Walton, daughter of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton; media executive Haim Saban; and New York investor Philip Munger. She also solicited funds in emails, online ads and direct mail.

Sanders created the Bernie Victory Fund in November. He has not solicited any state partners. The account has raised $1,000, though that was a donation from the DNC to keep the account active.

A spokesman said in January that the campaign hadn't raised any money for the national and state parties because "the party hasn't given us any dates." The campaign, though, is responsible for raising money through its own events and actions.

"Sen. Sanders doesn't have a cache of big-money donors waiting in the wings," Pennington said this week.

Last month, Sanders helped raise money for three Democratic candidates for the House of Representatives -- Pramila Jayapal in Washington state, Lucy Flores in Nevada and Zephyr Teachout in New York -- through emails.

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