Presidential election already fueled by $377 million

WASHINGTON: The 2016 presidential contest is barely underway, and already donors have poured some $377 million into it, an Associated Press review shows.

The first peek behind the fundraising curtain comes by midnight Wednesday, when most candidates must file their initial reports to the Federal Election Commission.

Those documents will cover financial activity between April 1 and June 30 and will list the names of everyone who gave at least $200. The maximum contribution for the primary is $2,700. The FEC reports also will show how candidates are spending their money —on consultants, office space, advertising, polling and more.

In the weeks since Texas Sen. Ted Cruz entered the GOP race in late March, the field of presidential hopefuls has grown to five Democrats and 17 Republicans. They're traveling the country to donor dinners and pleading for online contributions in frequent emails to supporters.

The fundraising market is even more crowded because dozens of super PACs have been created to help specific candidates. Most of those groups, which accept contributions of any size and are subject to legal limits on how closely they can work with the campaigns, file their FEC reports at the end of the month.

Ahead of the deadlines, many candidates and their super PAC boosters have publicized their fundraising totals. The AP tallied those numbers and found that donors have handed over some $377 million through the end of June. That's more than the presidential candidates raised for the entire primary election of 2000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a group that tracks election spending.

Almost half of the money disclosed so far will benefit just two of the expected 22 candidates — both of whom have former presidents in the immediate families: Hillary Rodham Clinton and Jeb Bush.

Clinton, the Democratic front-runner, has raised $45 million in checks of $2,700 or less for her campaign. Priorities USA Action, a super PAC that counts on seven-figure donors, raised an additional $15 million.

Bush's money looks different. Before he officially declared his candidacy, the former Florida governor spent the first six months of the year raising huge sums of money for Right to Rise, a super PAC that's boosting his bid to win the Republican nomination. That group says it has raised a record $103 million. Bush's presidential campaign, which officially began on June 15, collected $11.5 million from contributors.

Outside groups are furthering the ambitions of at least four other Republican presidential aspirants: Cruz, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. In each case, the fundraising for the outside groups helping them is outpacing the fundraising for their own campaigns.

Rubio's overall take from donors — $44.7 million to his campaign and two outside groups — includes $15.8 million for a nonprofit that won't file any public budget information until at least next year and keeps its donors secret.

Meanwhile, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, a conservative GOP candidate, and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a liberal candidate seeking the Democratic nomination, have harnessed grassroots enthusiasm to fill campaign coffers with small donations. Carson's campaign says it has raised more than $10.4 million, and Sanders has brought in $15 million. Because the money is coming directly to them, they have tighter control over how it is used.

Wednesday's filings will shed more light on how the others are doing with small donors, defined as individuals who give $200 or less. On the other side of the spectrum, the end-of-July super PAC filings will provide a snapshot of who's doing the best with the biggest donors, those writing six-figure checks or more.

A few major Republican candidates will be missing from the initial campaign finance reports. Kasich, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie made their campaigns official too recently to file second-quarter FEC reports, although a Christie-allied super PAC said on Tuesday that it has raised $11 million. The first look at their campaign numbers will come in mid-October.