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For Presidential Campaigns, Frugality Is All The Rage


The presidential campaigns reported their latest fundraising totals last night, and some were also talking about how wisely they're spending their donors' money. Here's NPR's Peter Overby.

PETER OVERBY, BYLINE: The end of the third quarter marks the start of serious campaign spending for the primaries. The balloting begins February 1 in Iowa.

SHEILA KRUMHOLZ: There's a lot of movement, I think a lot of volatility.

OVERBY: Sheila Krumholz is director of the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks political money. She points to the standouts. Sen. Bernie Sanders, with his army of small donors, nearly matched Democrat Hillary Clinton's $28 million haul. And among Republicans, Ben Carson brought in $21 million but spent about half of it. Billionaire Donald Trump managed to bring in $3.8 million, almost entirely from other people. Krumholz notes there's volatility, too, down in the trenches with the other candidates. Jeb Bush saw only a slight bump in his fundraising, and Bush's former protege, Sen. Marco Rubio, saw his quarterly take go down. Krumholz adds this.

KRUMHOLZ: Bush has raised $100 million already through his superPAC and outside groups. But Rubio also has a dark money organization that's spending on political ads now at a good clip. And we have no idea what they have raised.

OVERBY: Now both Rubio and the others are bragging about how they're trimming costs. Rubio's campaign says it buys its furniture from Craigslist. But there's also growing interest in shifting campaign costs - move them off of the candidates' own campaign committee, which can't take contributions greater than $2,700, move them onto the officially independent superPAC, which has no contribution limits at all. As Krumholz says, it's already happening with TV advertising. Here's New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in an ad his campaign didn't have to pay for.


CHRIS CHRISTIE: And I am now ready to fight for the people of the United States of America.


UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: America Leads is responsible for the content of this advertising.

OVERBY: SuperPACs can't do everything. For instance, Republican Rick Perry's campaign hit the wall on things as mundane as the fees to get on state primary ballots, something the candidate has to pay for, not an outside group.

STEFAN PASSANTINO: There are still frontiers that are out there.

OVERBY: Stefan Passantino was the lawyer for the Rick Perry superPACs. He says voter contact work takes a lot of time, people and money.

PASSANTINO: Identifying the likely voters, transporting the individuals to candidate events and otherwise undertaking the task of motivating individuals to show their support for the candidate.

OVERBY: Not to mention getting them to the polls on primary day. And then there's this twist in federal election law. A candidate cannot raise big money for a superPAC, but it's fine for a superPAC to raise money for a candidate's campaign.

PASSANTINO: What's typically referred to not as a superPAC, but as a super-superPAC.

OVERBY: It's all about the expectations of big donors.

PASSANTINO: Typically those individuals want to give their money in the context of an event at which the candidate is present, and they tend to be hosted at nice locations.

OVERBY: Just the kind of event a well-financed superPAC would know how to do. Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Overby has covered Washington power, money, and influence since a foresighted NPR editor created the beat in 1994.