With the 2020 presidential election looming, campaign season has begun in earnest. In the first six-months of 2019, total campaign spending by the 23 most prominent presidential hopefuls — including incumbent President Donald Trump — topped $156 million.
Exorbitant spending on political campaigns in the United States is nothing new. Presidential campaign spending has topped $100 million for every Republican and Democratic candidate in the 21st century. The Obama campaign spent more than $700 million in the lead up to both the 2008 and 2012 elections.
While money is not everything, it certainly does not hurt. In nearly every presidential election since 1980, the year Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter, the campaign that spent the most won the White House. The single exception is Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton in 2016. And according to data from the nonpartisan campaign funding research group Center for Responsive Politics, the biggest spender in House races won in at least 86% of instances since 2000. The odds for top-spenders in the Senate are not much lower. These are the senators and representatives who raised the most money for the 2018 midterm elections.
Spending is not necessarily the explanation for the victory, however. Campaign spending requires fundraising, and fundraising — particularly through small donations of $200 or less — can be interpreted as a proxy for popularity. With this in mind, 24/7 Wall St. ranked total spending in the first half of 2019 for 23 presidential campaigns. Not surprisingly, many of the biggest spenders are also leading in the polls.
While a handful of candidates have raised most of their campaign funds from small individual donors, the majority of presidential hopefuls rely most heavily on big contributions from big donors. Wealthy private citizens and certain limited liability corporations often donate heavily to the campaigns of candidates they believe will protect their interests should they take office. Here is a list of the largest private donors in American politics.
It is important to note that these rankings are based on official campaign spending only. They do not include spending of super political action committees — or super PACs — that may independently act on the behalf of a campaign.
To identify the presidential candidates spending the most and least, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed official campaign spending between Jan. 1, 2019 and June 30, 2019. All data came from the Federal Election Commision. Data on campaign fundraising and cash on hand also came from the FEC. Cash on hand can include personal loans from the candidate to the campaign as well as transferred money from another campaign. The share of money from small donors is the percent of total fundraising that came from contributions less than $200.