Friday was the deadline for super PACs, groups that operate outside candidates’ official presidential campaigns, to file their fundraising reports with federal regulators.
In total, these groups have raised more than $258 million this year. The super PAC backing Jeb Bush led the pack, hauling in a record $102 million. Ted Cruz’s super PAC raised nearly $38 million, while those backing Hillary Clinton and Scott Walker took in $20 million.
But what makes this year so unique is that for the first time, nearly every one of the 22 presidential candidates has their own super PAC, running ads and knocking on doors — but without the limits on the amount of money any one person can give.
That means the sky’s the limit for wealthy donors.
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Hedge fund executive Robert Mercer, for example, gave $11 million to support Cruz. If he had donated directly to the campaign, he’d only be allowed to give $2700.
As the chairman of the Federal Election Commission (FEC), Ann Ravel, puts it: “It’s the Wild West.”
Ravel is the top cop on the beat that is supposed to police the record money and investigate possible violations, like whether candidates and super PACs are coordinating campaign efforts. The Supreme Court has said that such coordination could be illegal.
“In order for people to have faith in our electoral system, and in the political processes, they have to know that the law is being enforced,” Ravel told CBS News. “And people assume it.”
Ravel admitted, however, that it’s not guaranteed.
The six-member FEC usually splits evenly along party lines — but it needs a majority to even open investigations.
“I think that the likelihood is that the lawyers who are representing all the candidates are saying to them, the commission cannot get four votes to enforce any matter,” Ravel said. “Therefore, you can take risks with the law.”
A CBS analysis found that 61 people have given $1 million dollars or more to candidate super PACs. Ravel says the major concern here is that the these mega wealthy donors are buying outsize influence — and that means less power for the average voter.