There will probably be more money flowing into the 2016 presidential race than in any election in U.S. history. The most important new trend is the hundreds of millions flowing into “super PACs” and other outside spending groups, which can accept unlimited amounts from rich donors and spend it on ads and other efforts to support favored candidates or help defeat their opponents.
The gusher of political money flowing from “economic elites” may even endanger democracy itself, according to a recent study by two leading academics, since it concentrates political influence among a small number of billionaires while disenfranchising typical voters.
With crony capitalism and income inequality likely to be prominent issues in the election, Yahoo Finance will track the big donors funding each candidate, and why they might be doing that. Below is our list of who’s donating to each candidate so far, with the candidates grouped by party and listed according to their fundraising prospects. (Click on each name for a more complete funding profile):
Hillary Clinton. Fundraising tier, out of 3 levels: Highest
Prominent donors: Most of the usual big Democratic givers, including Tom Steyer, Fred Eychaner, James Simons, George Soros, Marc Lasry, Reid Hoffman, Jeffrey Katzenberg and John Doerr.
Advantages: A vast network of rich contacts from her years as a senator and Secretary of State, and of course her husband Bill’s years as president.
Vulnerabilities: Clinton may seem such a shoe-in that donors grow complacent and hold back, leaving her at a funding disadvantage against Jeb Bush or whoever the Republican nominee turns out to be.
Martin O’Malley. Fundraising tier: Lowest
Prominent donor: Retired trial attorney John Coale, who, ironically, is married to Fox News host Greta van Susteren.
Advantages: As a more liberal alternative to Clinton, O’Malley could get some union donations and other funds from the party’s leftward wing.
Vulnerabiliites: Who would fund such an underdog?
Bernie Sanders. Fundraising tier: Lowest.
Prominent donors: Unions
Advantages: Virtually nothing to lose.
Vulnerabilities: So far to the left many donors may figure he has no chance and write him off.
Lincoln Chafee. Fundraising tier: Lowest
Prominent donor: His wife, Stephanie, who hails from a wealthy New England political family.
Advantages: Chafee, a former Republican, has liberal views on social issues but could attract centrist Democrats, since he leans more to the right on economic and national security issues.
Vulnerabilities: As former governor of Rhode Island, Chafee’s natural donor base is as tiny as his home state.
Jim Webb. Fundraising tier: Lowest
Prominent donors: John Kerry, tobacco firm Altria.
Advantages: Strong national-security credentials, well-connected inside the Beltway.
Vulnerabilities: Has disavowed super PACs, leaving him without a way to haul in unlimited amounts of money from wealthy donors.
Jeb Bush. Fundraising tier, out of 3: Highest.
Prominent donors: Big names in business and finance, such as financier Henry Kravis, New York Jets owner Woody Johnson, Chicago banker Byron Trott, oilman T. Boone Pickens and cellphone pioneer Craig McCaw.
Advantages: Inherits mainstream GOP fundraising network cultivated by his brother George W. Bush, his father, George H.W. Bush, and 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
Vulnerabilities: May need to spend a lot of money slogging through drawn-out primary elections.
Scott Walker. Fundraising tier: Middle.
Prominent donors: GOP heavyweights Sheldon Adelson and Charles and David Koch have contributed to Walker as Wisconsin governor and could back him for president (though Walker probably won’t declare his candidacy until early July).
Advantages: Walker’s anti-union crusade in Wisconsin has made him a favorite of conservatives impressed by action as well as talk.
Vulnerabilities: Few voters know much about Walker, which could make him too much of an underdog in the eyes of some donors.
Marco Rubio. Fundraising tier: Middle.
Prominent donors: Oracle’s Larry Ellison, Florida billionaire Norman Braman, Florida sugar baron Jose “Pepe” Fanjul.
Advantages: At 44, Rubio has a bright political future even if he doesn’t win in 2016—perhaps running for Florida governor in 2018. That should attract some donors who wouldn’t otherwise support an underdog.
Vulnerabilities: Could become overdependent on a small number of rich donors.
Chris Christie. Fundraising tier: Middle
Prominent donor: Home Depot co-founder Ken Langone.
Advantages: Proximity to New York City has helped Christie get acquainted with some of the world's richest financiers.
Vulnerabilities: Controversies during Christie's second term could prompt some former supporters to switch to other candidates.
Ted Cruz. Fundraising tier: Middle
Prominent donor: Hedge funder Robert Mercer of Renaissance Technologies.
Advantages: Cruz is on the far right of the political spectrum, which makes him the favored candidate of many Tea Partiers and ultraconservatives such as Mercer.
Vulnerabilities: Though his wife has been a senior Goldman Sachs executive, Cruz has alienated the business community through efforts to shut down the federal government and other disruptive political tactics.
Lindsey Graham. Fundraising tier: Middle to lowest
Prominent donor: Michael Bloomberg, who donated to Graham’s super PAC as a way of promoting bipartisanship.
Advantages: The South Carolina senator’s hawkish views on the Middle East have strong appeal to Jewish conservatives such as billionaire Sheldon Adelson (who hasn’t yet endorsed a candidate).
Vulnerabilities: Graham’s hawkishness alienates libertarians, independents and (needless to say) most Democrats.
John Kasich. Fundraising tier: Middle to lowest
Prominent donors: Retail visionary Lexlie Wexner, the Lindner and Boich families.
Advantages: Kasich is a pragmatic conservative popular with the business community.
Vulnerabilities: So is Jeb Bush.
Carly Fiorina. Fundraising tier: Middle to lowest
Prominent donor: Herself. Fiorina spent nearly $6 million of her own money running for the Senate in California in 2010. (She lost.)
Advantages: As the only woman among a male-dominated parade of GOP candidates, Fiorina might emerge as a vice-presidential running mate to Jeb Bush or another frontrunner.
Vulnerabilities. Big GOP donors who supported Fiorina as a Senate candidate—such as T. Boone Pickens, Paul Singer and Ken Griffin—seem likely to back other candidates now that the presidency is at stake.
Rand Paul. Fundraising tier: Middle to lowest
Prominent donors: Employees of New York hedge fund Mason Capital Management, including co-founders Kenneth Garshina and Michael Martino.
Advantages: Inherits the enthused libertarian network established by his father, Ron Paul.
Vulnerabilities: Difficulty establishing mainstream appeal.
Donald Trump. Fundraising tier: Middle to lowest
Prominent donor: Himself. Trump has said he'll finance his own campaign.
Advantages: As a self-funded candidate, Trump won't have to massage his message to appease favored donors.
Vulnerabilities: Even though he's a billionaire, Trump may not have enough spare cash to fund a competitive campaign.
Rick Perry. Fundraising tier: Middle to lowest
Prominent donors: Texas businessmen Thomas Friedkin and Kenny Trout.
Advantages: Texas, where Perry was governor, is a big state with big money.
Vulnerabilities: Perry’s listless performance as a presidential candidate in 2012 makes a lot of donors wonder why he’s doing it again.
Bobby Jindal. Fundraising tier: Lowest
Prominent donor: Oil and gas industry.
Advantages: Jindal was once considered the "Republican party's Barack Obama"--a charismatic minority (Indian-American, in his case) who seemed like a fresh presence. If he can overcome a recent plunge in popularity, Jindal might be able to rally.
Vulnerabilities: Virtually no name recognition nationally, which means he might land so low in polls that he's doesn't make the cut for televised debates.
Mike Huckabee. Fundraising tier: Lowest
Prominent donor: Televangelist Kenneth Copeland.
Advantages: The former Arkansas governor, a fundamentalist southern Baptist minister, has a considerable following thanks to his former gig as a Fox News commentator and frequent appearances at Christian gatherings.
Vulnerabilities: Huck, as he’s known, has little appeal beyond Christian conservatives, which is why he ranked 11th in fundraising when he ran for president in 2008.
Ben Carson. Fundraising tier: Lowest
Prominent donor: Harry Bettis, an Idaho rancher who supports Republican candidates and causes.
Advantages: Personal rags-to-riches narrative that could inspire small donors.
Vulnerabiliites: No natural constituency, other than voters who are sick of all the usual candidates.
Rick Santorum. Fundraising tier: Lowest
Prominent donors: Bill Doré and Foster Friess.
Advantages: His supporters tend to be true believers inspired by Santorum’s religious and moral positions.
Vulnerabilities: There aren’t nearly enough of them.
George Pataki. Fundraising tier: Lowest
Prominent donor: He’s desperately seeking one.
Advantages: Three terms as New York governor left Pataki well-acquainted with many East Coast businesspeople, including some top GOP donors.
Vulnerabilities: George who?
Rick Newman’s latest book is Liberty for All: A Manifesto for Reclaiming Financial and Political Freedom. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman.