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The 2016 campaign fundraising landscape

In 2008, Barack Obama raised and spent about $750 million -- a number that included money both the primary and general election. In 2012, campaign spending by both general election candidates topped $1.7 billion. Outside groups spent nearly half a billion.

At this early point in the 2016 presidential campaign cycle (with only one declared major candidate so far), a lot of money is already being raised in a variety of ways by those who are considering running for president. Former surgeon Ben Carson has the most fundraising vehicles - he has an exploratory committee, a leadership PAC, and two super PACs to his name. Hillary Clinton has none.

Clinton aside, just about everyone who is considering running for president in 2016 has some kind of fundraising vehicle, and they have many choices. Between campaign committees, leadership PACs, super PACs and 527 committees, there's a confusing collection of ways to collect funds that all come with different disclosure requirements, campaign limits, and spending restrictions, and that are being used in ways that test legal boundaries.

This is an early primer for 2016 campaign fundraising: what organizations exist, where they can raise their money, where they can spend it, what they legally must disclose, and which entities have been chosen by the possible 2016 presidential candidates (most of whom will stress that they are not candidates...yet).

Campaign committee: Official campaign committees are the standard fare when it comes to fundraising for a presidential run.


They can raise money from individuals (a cap of $2,700) and PACs (limit of $5,000). While they can't raise money from corporations or unions, these entities often form PACs in order to donate to their chosen candidates. Current and former federal officeholders and candidates may transfer funds from previous or current campaign committees to a presidential campaign committee.

Financial disclosures:

Candidate's campaign committees file quarterly reports, disclosing all their receipts and expenditures.

Exploratory committees: An exploratory committee is filed with the FEC to "test the waters" of a campaign. It's essentially a campaign committee -- with features like contribution limits - and it is transformed into a campaign committee once individuals stop exploring and start running.

Only four potential candidates have such a committee, which has grown a little stodgy over the years because of its inflexibility. So why bother?

"Because if you want to stay precisely within the letter of the law, then that's really what you're supposed to do," Bob Biersack of the watchdog organization Center for Responsive Politics told CBS News.


Anyone, except corporations and unions. Donors are limited to contributions of $2700/individual, $5000/committee

Purchasing power:

Travel, polling, telephone calls -- everything except ads

Financial disclosures:

Once candidacy is declared, expenditures must be disclosed in the first report.

Leadership PACs: Leadership PACsare controlled by potential candidates, and are used to pay for political expenditures like travel, staff, and polling. Those in charge of leadership PACs can also donate to other political candidates.


Individuals, PACs and party committees can donate $5,000/year

Purchasing power:

Leadership PACs can donate up to $5,000 per year per national candidate and up to $15,000 per year per national party. Their money can't be used on campaign activities once an individual declares their candidacy for federal office. The funds cannot be transferred to a federal campaign committee.

Financial disclosures:

Leadership PACs can file their reports quarterly or monthly to the FEC, and they must disclose their donors.

Super PACs or independent expenditure-only committees: This kind of committee was born after the Supreme Court issued its 2010 decision in Citizens United. The ruling characterized monetary contributions as protected "speech," and so allowed unlimited donations -- from corporations, unions, and the like -- to political campaigns.

Anyone can create a Super PAC, which is ostensibly supposed to disclose its donors. But late-night comedy host Stephen Colbert set up a super PAC and a shell 501(c)4 corporation, which would protect his donors, and then handed it over to "Daily Show" host Jon Stewart. It illustrated problems critics had with the Supreme Court decision: Big donors often set up shell corporations to donate large amounts to Super PACs. While the shell corporation's name will show up in the Super PAC's filing, little information is usually available about who owns the corporation, a way of complying with the disclosure requirement while remaining hidden.


They are free to accept unlimited contributions from anyone, as well as from corporations and unions.

Purchasing power:

Anything goes, although they're not allowed to coordinate with a candidate. Potential candidates, so long as they haven't officially declared they're candidates, are free to run their super PACs and raise money for them.

Financial disclosures:

Donations and expenditures must be disclosed to the FEC. Super PACs are subject to the same requirements that leadership PACs and exploratory committees are.

527 groups: These are tax-exempt non-profit groups that file with the IRS. They are unable to coordinate with federal candidates, nor are they allowed to explicitly call for the election or defeat of candidates.


There are no upper limits on contributions and no restrictions about who can donate to them.

Purchasing power:

There are also no spending limits on these organizations. They traditionally advocate for issues, as with unions or associations of elected officials (like the Democratic Governors Association). 527 organizations can directly give money to state candidates, but not federal candidates.

Individuals can't use funds from 527 committees once they announce their candidacies.

Financial disclosure:

527 groups must disclose their expenditures to the IRS and must also be transparent about their donors. They must file periodic reports.

501(c)(4) is a non-profit organization registered with the IRS.


They can raise tax-exempt money from any person or entity. Critics consider them of as "dark money" havens because donors remain anonymous.

Financial disclosures:

They have to file form 990s with IRS that disclose amounts raised and how funds are spent. Donors are not disclosed.

Purchasing power:

501(c)(4)s can spend on some political activity, but the organization cannot serve a primary political purpose. They are required by law to spend less than half of their money on political activity (this has been interpreted to suggest that 49 percent can be spent on political activity).

Who has these committees?


Jeb Bush

  • Leadership PAC: Right to Rise
  • Super PAC: Right to Rise

Ben Carson

  • Exploratory committee
  • Leadership PAC: USA First
  • Super PACs: One Nation PAC and American Legacy PAC

Chris Christie

  • Super PAC: America Leads

Ted Cruz

  • Campaign committee: Cruz for President
  • Leadership PAC: Jobs Growth and Freedom Fund

Carly Fiorina:

  • Super PAC: Unlocking Potential

Lindsey Graham:

  • Exploratory committee: Security through Strength

Mike Huckabee

  • Leadership PAC: HuckPAC

Bobby Jindal:

  • Super PAC: Believe Again PAC

George Pataki:

  • Super PAC: We the People, Not Washington

Rand Paul

  • Leadership PAC: Reinventing a New Direction (RAND PAC)

Rick Perry:

  • Super PAC: Opportunity and Freedom

Rick Santorum

  • Hybrid leadership/super PAC

Donald Trump

  • Exploratory committee

Scott Walker


Hillary Clinton:

Martin O'Malley:

  • Leadership PAC: O'Say Can You See

Bernie Sanders:

  • Leadership PAC: Progressive Voters of America

Jim Webb:

  • Exploratory committee
  • Leadership PAC: Born Fighting
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