An insurance mogul. A coal baron. Several oil kings and hedge-fund honchos. These are among the donors who put at least $1 million behind Jeb Bush and now have nothing to show for their investments.
Big-time political donors usually know they’re gambling on risky business, yet even so, the all-or-nothing nature of political campaigns means most of them go home empty-handed – since only one candidate can win, after all. The 2016 election began with roughly 20 major candidates—most on the Republican side—and at least 10 of them had super PACs able to raise six- and seven-figure donations from wealthy backers. Jeb Bush was the undisputed king of the super PACs.
Before he dropped out of the race on Feb. 20, Bush had the benefit of more super PAC money—roughly $120 million – than the next four candidates combined. His super PAC—Right to Rise—seemed likely to be the best funded in American history. Little good all that money did. In three primary states, Bush’s best finish was fourth. A campaign swollen with money never clicked with voters.
Here are the big donors who lost the most on Bush:
In addition to the million-dollar club, more than 250 others gave Bush between $100,000 and $1 million, including Wall Street A-listers such as Henry Kravis of KKR, Dan Loeb of Third Point Capital, Herb Allen of Allen & Co. and Leon Black of Apollo Management. Another 650 or so gave between $25,000 and $100,000.
There’s no time for nursing losses, however, because five remaining Republicans are competing fiercely for Bush’s donors—assuming they’re still willing to give. Ohio Gov. John Kasich hews closest to Bush’s moderate pragmatism, though Bush’s fellow Floridian, Sen. Marco Rubio, has brighter star power. Ted Cruz could pick up some of Bush’s southern oil money (though the fracking bust may crimp donations from the oil patch).
Ben Carson, who never ran for office before, is cut from different cloth than the other candidates, yet he’ll probably go after Bush’s folksiest donors. And even Donald Trump has sent emissaries to some Bush backers, thought it’s not clear whether Trump is mulling a super PAC of his own, to accept big donations, or is merely hoping to preempt wealthy funders from giving to other candidates.
Among Democrats, Hillary Clinton has many millionaire backers of her own, while Bernie Sanders has foresworn super PACs and is cruising along fueled mainly by small donations—tons of them—averaging less than $30. By the time it’s all over in November, many big donors may wish they had spent their money on something else. If you’re a Sanders supporter, however, 30 bucks is a cheap ticket to a game others are paying a heckuva lot more to attend.
Rick Newman’s latest book is Liberty for All: A Manifesto for Reclaiming Financial and Political Freedom. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman.