Joe Biden still trails President Donald Trump in cash, but he’s catching up.
Biden and the Democratic National Committee hit an all-time monthly fundraising record in May, bringing in $80.8 million. That total topped Trump and the Republican National Committee, which together raised $74 million over the same period.
But Trump — who has been able to jointly fundraise with the Republican Party at higher levels as the Republican presidential nominee for months — leads Biden in cash on hand, $265 million to $122.2 million, an all-important number that shows how much the candidate and committee can still spend. Notably, May was the first full month Biden raised money in tandem with the DNC, drafting off of a joint fundraising agreement that allowed individual donors to give more than $620,000.
Saturday night’s Federal Elections Commission filings also shed light on Republicans’ edge in spending this month, an ongoing battle among several outside groups to be Biden’s preferred super PAC and Justin Amash’s brief run for president.
POLITICO dug through the numbers and here’s six takeaways from this month’s filings:
Trump, RNC spending dwarfed Biden, DNC
The president’s campaign and the RNC far outpaced Biden and the DNC in spending in May. Trump’s team spent about $46.5 million during the month, while Democrats spent about $24.1 million — a reflection of Trump's significant cash-on-hand advantage over Biden, who became the presumptive Democratic nominee two months ago.
But the spending totals are likely not a full picture, because any spending by the candidates’ joint fundraising committees is also not accounted for. In particular, one of Trump’s joint fundraising agreements focused on small-dollar fundraising routinely spends millions on Facebook advertising over the course of a month.
Much of the president’s and Biden's spending was on advertising — a category that will continue to balloon as the campaign turns to the general election. The Trump campaign spent $19.8 million on ads through the company American Made Media Consultants, which was created by campaign officials to handle its advertising purchases. Biden’s largest expenditure was $3.6 million to the media buyer Infogroup.
The RNC spent over $1 million on “legal and compliance services” during the month, including nearly $200,000 to “Alan Dershowitz Consulting LLC."
The Trump campaign spent more than $470,000 on polling in the month of May. Most of that spending went to the polling firm Fabrizio, Lee & Associates — but the Trump campaign also paid $98,000 to the firm of the pollster John McLaughlin, who wrote a memo for the Trump campaign in June to try to discredit a national poll from CNN that showed the president performing poorly.
Democratic Super PACs battle for a fundraising edge
A handful of super PACs are jockeying to be Biden’s preferred outside group. Their fundraising totals showed that one has amassed a commanding lead.
During the presidential primary, Unite the Country boosted Biden when he needed it most, helping his campaign rebound from losses in Iowa and New Hampshire to a decisive Super Tuesday performance. That March, the super PAC brought in more than $10 million. But over the past two months, the super PACs fundraising cratered, bringing in $723,000 in April and $1.3 million in May.
The drop occurred after Biden’s campaign initially signaled Priorities USA, another group that led outside Democratic spending in 2016, would be its preferred super PAC. Those moves are closely tracked by big-money donors, who want to stick with the favored outside group.
Priorities USA, which backed Biden after Super Tuesday, raised $7.5 million last month. The group told the Los Angeles Times it secured $38 million in donations and commitments since early May, two-thirds during the last three weeks. That would mean a huge spike in the group’s June fundraising totals.
Priorities USA also spent nearly five times more than Unite the Country — $9.7 million to $2.1 million — largely on TV ads, slamming Trump.
But Unite the Country says it's still relevant. An aide told POLITICO that the group topped its May fundraising total in the first ten days of June. Unite the Country and American Bridge 21st Century — another pro-Biden outside group that files quarterly, not monthly — also forged a partnership to pool resources and research.
Pro-Trump super PAC’s fundraising dropped in May
Fundraising totals for America First Action, the pro-Trump super PAC, plummeted in May — bringing in $2.4 million. In April, the group raised nearly $11.6 million.
It's likely a one-month blip, and the Republican super PAC is not expected to struggle for cash as the election turns to the fall. But the drop-off shows how deeply the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent economic downturn hit the group, which is reliant on big-money donors who keep a close eye on a yo-yo-ing stock market.
In a statement, Brian O. Walsh, America First Action’s president, said the group eased up on seeking donations in May as the coronavirus wrecked the economy. "But we are moving forward in June," he said. Walsh noted the group is running ads against Biden in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania since mid-April, and is "in a solid financial position to continue to do so.”
An aide to America First Action said that the group, along with the super PAC’s affiliated non-profit America First Policies, had $56 million in cash on hand by mid-June. The aide also said America First Action brought in nearly $3.6 million this month as of June 19.
Dan Eberhart, a major GOP donor, also noted that the "steep drop" for America First Action's fundraising is "hopefully" a "temporary blip because of the pandemic and not an indication of reduced support for President Trump."
Still, the pro-Biden super PACs lag behind the pro-Trump super PACs in cash on hand, mirroring the official campaign fundraising. America First Action is sitting on $27 million, while Priorities USA and Unite the Country, a pair of pro-Biden super PACs, have a combined $22.7 million in cash on hand.
A Democratic money juggernaut — even in a pandemic
Even during a pandemic, ActBlue, the progressive fundraising platform, continues to be a juggernaut for the Democratic Party — giving its candidates an enormous advantage in hauling in small-dollar donors.
May — a month marked by historically bad unemployment numbers, as more than 40 million Americans are without jobs — was still the third largest month by number of contributions and unique donors, and fifth largest by total dollars raised, according to ActBlue's analysis.
The top beneficiaries are, unsurprisingly, at the top of the ticket: Biden raised nearly $28 million, while the DNC brought in $6.3 million. Donations to Biden and the national party accounted for about 30 percent of all donations that were processed by the platform in the month. The top down-ballot candidates on ActBlue this month were Amy McGrath, Mark Kelly and Jamie Harrison, a trio of Senate challengers running in Kentucky, Arizona and South Carolina, respectively.
Comparable numbers for Trump and the RNC are not available. WinRed, the Republicans’ response to ActBlue that was launched about a year ago with the blessing of the Trump political machine, files its reports on a quarterly basis.
Campaign travel spending evaporated
The coronavirus pandemic ground campaign activities to a total halt in May, and the drops in spending are staggering.
In March, before the coronavirus pandemic shut down much of the country, Biden's campaign spent over $1.3 million on air travel, car rentals and lodging for the candidate and his staff. In May, with Biden's campaign operating nearly exclusively out of the vice president's Delaware basement, the campaign spent just $53,000 on the same travel expenses. That's a 96 percent decrease.
The Trump campaign saw a similar drop-off, seeing its campaign travel spending cut in half from March to May.
The travel savings for the campaigns won't matter much in the long-term, but the drop-off shows just how dramatically the Trump and Biden campaigns had to reorient themselves for a digital-only approach.
A brief Libertarian campaign
Justin Amash was a presidential candidate for just three weeks, and he didn’t have much cash to show for it.
The Michigan congressman raised $230,000 last month for his exploratory committee, before he dropped out of the race on May 16. He spent about $90,000 and left $115,000 in his campaign account.
Amash became the only Libertarian member of Congress after leaving the Republican Party. He previously announced that he would not seek reelection to his House seat, but still has time to change his mind.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misstated the name of one of Trump's pollsters. It is John McLaughlin.