Saturday Morning Post: The Weekly View from Washington

By Tory Newmyer
August 1, 2015

Saturday Morning Post: The Weekly View from Washington

A billionaire with an interest in politics doesn’t need to change careers to have an impact on the process, recent developments notwithstanding. Fresh evidence of that came Friday, when super PACs — the outside groups that can raise unlimited sums to spend on the race, as long as they don’t directly coordinate with the official campaigns — disclosed their hauls from the first half of the year.

The reports’ most striking takeaway: Just how far a few committed contributors can go toward staking a candidate’s ante. The top 25 donors together handed over a whopping $93 million. And several Republican contenders saw the bulk of their collections arrive in just a check or two. A pair of super PACs supporting Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, for example, received $10 million from Toby Neugebauer, an energy investor, and $11 million from Robert Mercer, the hedge fund billionaire. Fellow Texan Rick Perry, the former governor, pulled in $11 million from another couple of donors. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker took $13.5 million from four sources, including $5 million from a roofing billionaire plus another $4.9 million from Marlene Ricketts, wife of TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts. And Florida Sen. Marco Rubio collected $12.5 million from four sources — including $5 million from Norman Braman, a Florida car-dealing magnate, and $3 million from former Oracle CEO Larry Ellison.

For context, consider that when we penciled out the math on what it costs to contest the first four events on the Republican primary calendar, we arrived at a$40- $50 million range. That estimate aimed at official campaigns, which face a federal cap on the size of the contributions they can receive. But super PACs can significantly ease their burden by saturating television airwaves on behalf of candidates, by far the priciest outlay.

The vast majority of the big donors only contributed to a single candidate. And while there’s nothing stopping any of them from switching horses, those early bets suggest a depth of loyalty that contenders will be able to redeem for more money down the line. Which is to say, it’s going to be a long campaign. And if you tune in to the first Republican debate this Thursday, keep in mind the most consequential billionaire may be offstage.

Tory Newmyer
@torynewmyer
tory_newmyer@fortune.com

Top News

• Congress does what it does best, punting a heavy workload into the fall

Congress is wrapping up its summer work and heading home for an extended August recess by leaving itself a crushing to-do list in the fall. The pile-up of deadlines, including one for lifting the federal borrowing limit, has some anticipating the possibility of another government shutdown, if lawmakers can’t reach agreement on a range of pressing issues. Among them, Congress will have to forge a longer-term solution to funding the federal highway program, when a three-month patch lawmakers just approved as a dodge comes due later in the fall. Beyond that, lawmakers will have to hack through the thicket of annual spending bills, including dealing with a conservative push to defund Planned Parenthood and the onset of new sequestration spending cuts. Plus, there will be efforts to revive the Export-Import Bank, whose charter expired at the end of June, and a potential push to rewrite the international portion of the tax code.  Washington Post

Pacific Rim trade pact falters

President Obama’s trade agenda hit a new snag on Friday, as top trade negotiators from the U.S. and 11 other nations hammering out the massive Trans Pacific Partnership failed to reach a breakthrough. Talks tripped over outstanding disagreements on a number of issues, including agriculture, automobiles and pharmaceuticals. Top trade ministers concluded a meeting in Hawaii that they’d hoped would produce a final agreement projecting confidence that a deal was at hand, though it’s not clear yet when they’ll meet again.   New York Times” source=”Politico”]

• The Obama years have been good to the Clintons 

Hillary Clinton, along with her husband, earned $139 million over the last seven years. That’s according to a voluntary dump by the Democratic front-runner of her most recent eight years of tax returns. The records show the Clintons paid nearly $44 million in taxes over the period and gave nearly $15 million — or roughly 11 percent of their earnings — to charity. All but a tiny sliver of their philanthropic giving passed through the Clinton Family Foundation. Paid speeches make up a healthy chunk of the family’s earnings, with the former Secretary of State earning nearly $10 million for 41 such appearances in 2013 alone, the year she left Obama’s cabinet.  New York Times

 


Around the Water Cooler

Billionaire donors aren’t much interested in lobbying the Hill

Maybe it’s an ego thing: Billionaires with an interest in politics are happy to shell out millions trying to lift a preferred presidential candidate through the nominating process. But when it comes to the grubbier work of muscling outcomes on Capitol Hill, those donors aren’t so willing to engage. That’s the conclusion from a recent survey of lobbying disclosures that found the biggest spenders on federal campaigns shy from matching the expenditures on lobbyists. Tom Steyer, for example — the billionaire investor turned climate change crusader — spent more than $75 million on campaigns over the last two election cycles, while the investment firm he founded, Farallon Capital, has stopped reporting any lobbying expenses.  Roll Call

• The Kochs want people to see their softer side

Following two elections cycles in which Democrats invested heavily to cast them as the GOP’s villainous puppet-masters, the Koch brothers are trying to reclaim their public profiles. The makeover started with an unlikely partnership the billionaire libertarians forged with liberal advocated of criminal sentencing reform — but it is extending well beyond that campaign. The Kochs are lifting the veil, a bit, on their twice-a-year retreats for conservative donors to their political networks, as Charles Koch prepares to roll out a book on his management philosophy. Democrats, however, aren’t letting up, suggesting the kinder, gentler personas the industrialists are promoting are just a distraction from the $889 million they have pledged to plow into the 2016 election to advance a hard-right agenda.  New York Times

• Meanwhile, the Kochs are stiff-arming Trump

As the Kochs continue assembling what amounts to a shadow Republican party, they are making clear they’ve got no interest in advancing the candidacy of Donald Trump, a man with whom they’re otherwise friendly in social circles. The brother’s political organization is denying requests from the Trump camp to allow it access to their cutting-edge data files — and they’re shutting him out of a grassroots conclave that a Koch-backed group is staging in Columbus, Ohio this month. The freeze from the deep-pocketed activists marks a much more aggressive pushback against Trump’s insurgent candidacy than official party organs have been willing to muster to date.  Politico

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