Campaign finance filings takeaways: Joe Biden is still in a financial hole, super PAC importance rising

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Biden and the Democrats started May with about $100 million in cash reserves, according to filings Wednesday night with the Federal Election Commission. That’s less than half the $255 million that Team Trump said it had remaining in the bank, the result of a massive fundraising operation the President has cultivated since entering the White House.

Biden and the DNC took in more than $60 million in April, nearly as much as the $61.7 million the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee said it raised over the month, as the coronavirus pandemic forced both candidates to suspend traditional face-to-face fundraising.

But Trump has built an aggressive apparatus to tap small-dollar contributions, and his campaign’s new filings show that nearly half — about 45% — of donations from individuals last month came in amounts of $200 or less.

By comparison, small-dollar donations fueled about 37% of Biden’s individual contributions in April.

Super PAC power

In an effort to amp up his fundraising, Biden and the DNC recently expanded a joint fundraising agreement to include more than two dozen state parties. The deal will allow major donors to give $620,600 to the Biden Victory Fund — far exceeding the $2,800 maximum contribution that one can make directly to a candidate for the general election.

But spending by Democratic super PACs will be crucial in helping Biden bridge the cash gap with the Trump campaign, and Wednesday’s filings underscored some of the challenges ahead.

America First Action, a super PAC supporting Trump’s reelection, reported raising nearly $11.6 million in April — $10 million of which came from a single donor, Wyoming-based investor Timothy Mellon. Another $1 million came from Jeffrey Sprecher, the chairman of the New York Stock Exchange and the husband of Republican Georgia Sen. Kelly Loeffler, whose recent stock trades have come under scrutiny.

America First entered May with a hefty $28.9 million in cash reserves, its filing shows.

The group recently launched a $10 million advertising blitz focused on Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin — three battlegrounds that helped send Trump to the White House. The ads seek to portray Biden as soft on China, which is a theme the Trump campaign has hit in its advertising.

Wednesday’s reports show that Priorities USA Action, the main super PAC backing Biden’s candidacy, raised far less last month than the pro-Trump group, taking in nearly $3 million. But officials said this week they have secured commitments of more than $25 million for the super PAC and its related organizations since the start of April.

Guy Cecil, Priorities’ chairman, said his group’s donors “are rising to the occasion” to help his organization go “toe-to-toe” with the Trump operation. “This election is going to be very close, and this early period will be a key to a Biden victory,” he said in a statement.

Priorities entered May with a little more than $19 million in cash reserves, according to its filing with federal regulators.

Super PACs, which can raise unlimited sums from virtually any source, must operate independently of the candidates they support. But politicians can have enormous sway over them.

Last month, Biden’s campaign signaled his preference for Priorities, which was first created to support President Barack Obama’s reelection, over a newer group, Unite the Country, established last year to aid Biden.

And Wednesday’s filings show fundraising for Unite the Country plummeted. The group collected $723,000 in April, down from $10 million a month earlier.

Senate spending

A top priority for both political parties is the Senate, where Democrats must win a net gain of four seats to flip the chamber from Republican control, or three if they win the White House and the vice president is a tie breaker in the Senate.

Campaign reports last month showed individual Democratic candidates for the Senate outraising Republicans in key Senate races. And Wednesday’s filings show party committees and super PACs focused on Senate contests flush with cash for the advertising wars ahead.

The Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC closely aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, raised $9.2 million in April and started this month with nearly $60.2 million in cash reserves.

More than half the money it collected last month came from one couple, brokerage firm founder Charles Schwab and his wife, Helen O’Neill Schwab. They donated a combined $5 million.

The Senate Majority PAC, working to elect Senate Democrats, raised slightly more than the Republican super PAC — $10.9 million — and had nearly $62 million remaining in its war chest.

Its largest donors — a union-affiliated group, Working for Working Americans, and billionaire hedge funder James Simons — each donated $2 million last month.

Online donor energy

April fundraising offered a sign of hope for Democrats. ActBlue, the online fundraising platform for Democrats, this week announced it had collected nearly $141 million in April alone for Democratic candidates and liberal groups. That’s nearly three times the $49.7 million ActBlue processed in April of 2016, ahead of the last presidential election.

Republicans also made gains. WinRed, a platform launched last year as the Republican answer to ActBlue, said it had collected $60 million in April, its biggest month to date.

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