Before 2010, in order to have a well-financed campaign, a candidate and his or her team had to develop a well-oiled fundraising operation that was focused on lining up donors who could max out at federal contribution limits and get a sizeable number of their friends to do the same, filling in the gaps with events and email solicitations. This also meant it took time to raise the funds to put together a truly well-oiled operation and that only successful fundraisers could run a real, competitive campaign.
That is, until the arrival of the Super PAC.
While Super PACs have existed since the Citizen’s United ruling in 2010 and were used by key players in 2012, this is the first Presidential cycle that pretty much every contender has rolled one out after becoming a candidate (or in the case of Jeb Bush, before). Bush has even taken the extra step of outsourcing the meat of his campaign to his Super PAC, Right to Rise. Other than handlers, communications staff, policy team, and event coordination that directly involves the candidate, there’s very little staff or operations that conceivably could not be moved over to a Super PAC. The Super PAC could easily take over all paid advertising, as well as polling, opposition research, grassroots operations, electronic communications, and most social media, making the actual campaigns very streamlined operations.
Financial parity can be achieved with even one single large check. Jeb Bush’s team, who has proclaimed new fundraising records, is surely terrified that a rival could quickly match their total by exciting a small number of well-heeled donors. Bush and his team’s hard work over months could be wiped out with the stroke of a few pens.
I am currently working on a presidential Super PAC believe them to be essential for all candidates for high offices. For maximal effect, I believe both Super PACs and campaigns should be well-funded and complement each other while staying within the boundaries of the law. While Super PACs can take over the bulk of advertising, there are certain functions such as grassroots and social media that are much better suited for the campaign so the candidate can be directly involved. Though a candidate could be successful while outsourcing much of the campaign functions to their Super PAC, I think that in 2016 and beyond we will see that the most successful and well-run campaigns have both a well-funded, strong traditional campaign apparatus and an aggressive Super PAC.
I also firmly believe that small contributors still matter. Small donors who make a commitment to the campaign will, barring a major gaffe or scandal, stick with that candidate and might give repeatedly and put effort into promoting the campaign to their acquaintances or through grassroots volunteering. Small donors can become the base that pays for the functions that have to be done through the campaign. Moreover, having a large number of small donors can be an important message to show the depth of a campaigns support, demonstrating that a candidate can connect with “average joes” and has support beyond the handful of rich donors funding their SuperPAC.