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The 2016 money race: What we know now and what to look out for

Voters will get their first real peek at who’s winning the 2016 money race in just over a week.
Presidential Candidate Ben Carson laughs during his speech at the Western Conservative Summit in Denver, Colo. on June 27, 2015. (Photo by Mark Leffingwell/Reuters)
Presidential Candidate Ben Carson laughs during his speech at the Western Conservative Summit in Denver, Colo. on June 27, 2015.

Voters are starting their first real peek at who’s winning the 2016 presidential money race, as both Republican and Democratic contenders are reporting their second quarter fundraising hauls to federal regulators. Candidates must file their April-June numbers by July 15, while super PACs supporting those candidates have until July 31 to file reports. 

Since all the presidential hopefuls in the race right now declared their candidacy in the second quarter (except for Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who announced in March) the fundraising numbers during that period are the first real money test of this election cycle. Not only will we find out which candidates are -- or aren't -- having fundraising success, we’ll also get a glimpse at which mega donors have contributed to super PACS. Thanks to the Supreme Court’s controversial 2010 Citizens United decision, wealthy individuals and corporations can contribute unlimited funds to super PACs and other independent groups as long as they don't coordinate directly with the candidates they support.

Some campaigns and super PACS have been spilling the beans ahead of the filing deadline. Here’s what we know so far, and here’s what to look out for as the filing deadlines approach.

RELATED: Cruz campaign highlights super PAC fundraising numbers


Hillary Clinton is a force to be reckoned with: The Democratic frontrunner's campaign raised more than $45 million in the second quarter of this year, stressing that the vast majority of donations -- 90% -- were grassroots contributors who gave $100 or less. That puts Clinton on track to bring in approximately what Obama fundraised last election cycle as of June 30, 2011 – $33 million in addition to $12.75 million transferred from previous campaigns.

Priorities USA Action, the super PAC backing Clinton for president, said it would report a $15.6 million haul in Q2. Peter Kauffman, a spokesman for the group, recently told msnbc that several big name donors had contributed, with one longtime Clinton supporter, media mogul Haim Saban,  topping the list with a $2 million check. Billionaire financier and philanthropist George Soros, directors Steven Spielberg and J.J. Abrams, and Dreamworks Animation’s Jeffrey Katzenberg have also contributed, Kauffman said. 

Ted Cruz is also going strong: The tea party favorite's early jump into the GOP field is paying off. 

Cruz’s campaign announced this week it had raised $10 million in the second quarter – touting the support of 175,000 grassroots contributors and an average donation of $81. That’s on top of $4.3 million Cruz received in the first quarter of the year and $37 million reportedly raised by pro-Cruz super PACs, which must operate independently of a candidate’s official campaign operation. 

Here’s some perspective. During this quater in 2011, eventual GOP nominee Mitt Romney brought in $18.3 million.

Carly Fiorina is in trouble: Despite evidence of grassroots interest in Fiorina's campaign in Iowa and elsewhere, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO is lagging far behind her GOP competitors in fundraising. Her campaign announced this week that it had raised just $1.4 million in Q2, with her super PAC bringing in an additional $3.4 million. Fiorina's campaign manager noted in a memo that the GOP candidate, who entered the race on May 4, has not been building the political infrastructure that other candidates have spent many years creating.

RELATED: Bernie Sanders brings in $15 million, campaign says

Ben Carson looks formidable: The retired neurosurgeon – who announced his GOP bid on the same day as Fiorina – is faring much better. His campaign said earlier this month that it will report raising more than $8.3 million between April and June. That brings his total to $10.5 million since Carson set up a presidential exploratory committee on March 3. The campaign says it has received some 200,000 donations, with the average contribution around $50. It’s an important haul for Carson, who is considered a long shot for the nomination despite grassroots and tea party enthusiasm for his candidacy.

Bernie Sanders is doing well ... for an underdog: The Vermont senator, who’s taking on Clinton in the Democratic primary, announced that he's brought in $15 million since April 30. While it’s significantly less than Clinton’s haul, Sanders’ campaign has been picking up steam, with the senator recently drawing in an impressive crowd of 10,000 at a rally in Madison, Wisconsin.


Will Jeb Bush meet everyone’s high expectations? The former Florida governor, who is among the favorites in the nascent GOP race, has set the fundraising bar very high, with some supporters predicting the super PAC backing his candidacy could raise a whopping $100 million. Back in April, Bush  -- who, of course, has a political infrastructure and donor base to tap into because of his plugged-in political family – bragged to donors that he raised more money in 100 days than any political operation in his party. But if Bush falls short of those lofty expectations, it could end up taking some of the bloom off his rose.

What about Marco Rubio? Rubio’s campaign has not released its fundraising numbers. But the Florida GOP senator has benefited throughout his career from the support of Sunshine State billionaire Norman Braman, who has promised to give at least $10 million and as much as $15 million to help Rubio win. The super PAC backing Rubio also announced on Wednesday that it raised more than $16 million since April. And separately, a nonprofit backing Rubio’s Oval Office bid said this week that it had raised $15.8 million. Unlike the super PAC, however, the non-profit is not forced to disclose the names of its donors.

Will Rand Paul capitalize on grassroots dollars like his dad? We also don’t know much about GOP hopeful Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul's expected haul. His father, libertarian former Rep. Ron Paul, relied heavily on grassroots fundraising during his many bids for the White House. Will the younger Paul do the same? Separately, Rand Paul’s fundraising has come under fire from some of his GOP rivals, especially New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has criticized Paul for asking for money after he gave an 11-hour filibuster-like speech in May to argue against the government’s surveillance of American’s phone records. Christie called it “disgraceful.”

Mega donors versus grassroots donations: It will be important to look at just how much high dollar donors are giving to super PACs supporting the many GOPers in the field. In 2012, Sheldon Adelson’s $15 million support for Newt Gingrich or Foster Friess', who spent more than $2 million for Rick Santorum, kept those candidacies alive far longer than they would have pre-Citizens United.

One big caveat: Not everyone is officially in the race yet, so the Q2 filings will be somewhat of an incomplete picture. GOP Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who is polling well, won’t make his official bid for the White House until July 13, while Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich isn’t expected to make his announcement until July 21. And New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie only announced his bid on June 30.