This article has been updated.
Hillary Clinton’s campaign is looking to turn Jeb Bush’s money into her own.
The Republican presidential candidate’s super PAC announced Thursday a record-shattering $103 million fundraising haul, an astonishing number even in the post-Citizens United era. That’s almost quadruple the amount of money every super PAC had raised by this point in the 2012 election cycle combined, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, and more than the pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA, which is now backing Clinton, raised in two years during the last presidential election.
Hillary Clinton’s campaign is sounding the alarm, even as allies see a potential silver lining in Bush’s haul.
On Friday, Clinton finance director Dennis Cheng sent an email to supporters pleading for contributions with the subject line: “Hillary needs you.” In the email, Cheng said he had “bad news” and noted that Bush’s campaign and super PAC had raised a combined $114 million. “If that number scares you, good. It should,” Cheng warned.
“[T]here’s a point at which it may be too much – when we can’t make up for it by organizing better and spending our resources more wisely,” Cheng continued. “We cannot hit that point, especially this early in the campaign.”
The Clinton campaign is hardly broke. Last week, her campaign announced that it had raised $45 million since it launched – the most any primary candidate had raised in history. Priorities USA, that super PAC supporting Clinton, announced that it raised $15.6 millions so far this year, almost all of it coming in the previous four weeks.
Clinton has been on a break-neck fundraising spree since announcing her campaign in April, hopscotching across the country to attend dozens of $2,700 per head fundraises. Aware of Team Bush’s goal of raising more than $100 million, Clinton’s campaign pushed back her big kick-off rally in part to give her more time to fundraise. Donors reported intense pressure to get checks in early, and Clinton has gone hardly more than a few days between fundraisers.
RELATED: Jeb Bush: The $100 million man
Bush’s haul is daunting, but not surprising since his team telegraphed their goal, and Clinton allies are making the best of it.
“Jeb’s haul is eye-popping, jaw-dropping, pants-pooping news,” said Paul Begala, the longtime Clinton aide who now works with Priorities USA. “But does it change our strategy? Not really. We always knew we’d be outspent, as we were last cycle.”
In 2012, Mitt Romney’s super PAC spent millions more than Priorities USA, then supporting Obama, but the Democratic group kept a tight focus and pounded Romney with devastating ads on his record at Bain capital that proved effective.
And there are also downsides for Bush in raising most of his money via super a PAC instead of his campaign. Super PACs are legally prohibited from coordinating with campaigns, so the candidate has little say in how the money is spent or what the super PAC does. For instance, Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley was recently forced to publicly denounce an ad made by the super PAC supporting him attacking Bernie Sanders on gun control.
“If I were a Jeb supporter (a stretch, I grant you), I would be very concerned about ceding so much authority to a Super PAC. From the reports I read, the Super PAC is going to do the positive ads, and the negative ads and the response ads and, I’m pretty sure, the laundry and wash the windows,” said Begala. “They’re headed for trouble if you ask me.”
And campaigns get a discounted rate not available to super PACs when it comes to purchasing TV ads, the main expenditure of super PACs. That means campaigns can run more ads for less money than super PACs, potentially paying huge dividends. Mitt Romney learned this the hard way when he and his super PAC outspent Obama by almost a third, but ended up running 50,000 fewer ads nonetheless.
“Hillary’s $45m in campaign money is much more valuable to her campaign than Jeb’s $100m in Super Pac money is to his,” former Obama official Dan Pfeiffer said on twitter.
Clinton allies even it could actually help encourage their donors to pony up. “It’s obviously an impressive number. But it could be good for us, it’s not easy to raise money against nothing. We now have a real threat that should motivate our prospective donors to step up in a way most haven’t yet,” said one source in the pro-Clinton super PAC world, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
And Clinton boosters note that Bush’s super PAC may not be able to repeat its massive haul again. Bush himself led the PAC and made personal appeals to donors on its behalf, something he is now prohibited from doing since he’s an official candidate. Enthusiasm could drop off if Bush is no longer involved.
But even setting aside the super PAC, Clinton could fall behind Bush. Bush’s official campaign managed to out-compete Clinton’s record-breaking haul in one key measure. Bush’s campaign raised $11.4 million to Clinton’s $45 million, but he did it just 16 days compared to Clinton’s 81. That breaks down to $555,555 a day for Clinton, but $712,500 per day for Bush.
Bush’s sprint could just capture the boost of enthusiasm any candidate receives after they announce, and his numbers could drop off afterwards. Meanwhile, he’ll be preoccupied with the Republican presidential primary and will have to spend most of money bashing Republicans before he even makes it to the general election – if he makes it at all.
But it could also spell trouble for Clinton is she continues to be out-raised among both Bush’s campaign and super PAC.