$1M for hats? Follow Trump's campaign cash

Posted at 5:00 AM, Mar 29, 2016

WCPO is committed to bringing you in-depth reporting from the 2016 presidential race. We will update this database monthly – every time new campaign finance reports are released – to bring you the latest. Check back next month to see how much the candidates spent on the Ohio primary. 

The five remaining presidential candidates have already spent more than $350 million on their campaigns – and there’s still another eight months to go before anyone wins the keys to the Oval Office. 

Democratic contenders Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have far outspent the three remaining Republicans in the race. The two Democrats have poured nearly $250 million into campaigning for the party’s nomination as of Feb. 29, the latest data available from the Federal Election Commission.  

Political experts warn that Republicans are still spending boatloads of cash in this election cycle.

Both Clinton and Sanders have steered away from relying on super political action committees – commonly referred to as super PACs – to wield influence on the elections’ outcome.  Super PACs are prohibited from coordinating with a candidate directly but they can accept unlimited amounts of money to run ads supporting one candidate or attacking another, for example. But each candidate’s campaign committee is limited to accepting no more than $2,700 from an individual.

Sanders has denounced super PAC spending and touts the financial support he’s received from everyday people, instead of wealthy donors or businesses. 

That’s forced Clinton to follow suit with how she spends her money, said Jared Kamrass, a political strategist at Cincinnati-based Rivertown Strategies. 

While Clinton is the likely Democratic nominee, she and Sanders have spent nearly the same amount. Clinton had spent $129 million by Feb. 29 while Sanders dropped $122 million.

“It kind of shows Democrats have more grassroots donors,” Kamrass said. “On the Republican side, more dollars have been spent advocating for candidates (but) less of that money has come from the campaign itself.” 

For example, New Day for America – a super PAC that cannot coordinate with John Kasich but supports him – has spent $14 million campaigning for the Ohio governor.

Anti-candidate super PACs have also played a role in this election, especially as donors and Republican leaders look to squash GOP front-runner Donald Trump’s chances to win the nomination. Our Principles is a conservative PAC that spent $4.3 million by the end of February to run damaging ads against Trump. 

And Democratic presidential spending might seem big in comparison to the Republicans because Trump hasn’t spent much, said Brad Smith, a political science professor at Capital University. 

“Trump has spent remarkably little for a front-runner because he’s so good at getting earned media, or free media,” Smith said.  

Republican Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has poured $58 million in the race and far outspent Trump, who’s put $33.4 million in the race. Meanwhile, Kasich has only spent $10.8 million. 

Trump, however, has dropped some serious cash on his signature campaign item: the “Make America Great Again” hats. As of February, Team Trump had pumped more than $1 million into ordering the red ball caps.

Trump has also loaned his campaign $24 million and spent $668,000 of his campaign cash to write a check to either himself or one of his businesses. 

That’s abnormal practice for a presidential campaign candidate, Miami University political science professor Christopher Kelley said. 

Trump likes to boast on Twitter and in television interviews that he’s self-funding his campaign, but in reality he’s self-loaning his campaign. Kelley said he wouldn’t be surprised if Trump pays himself back through outside donations down the road.

“It’s not normal,” Kelley said. “He’s done it all for public-relations purposes. He had an image that he wanted own going into this race: ‘I’m my own person, I’m going to spend my own money.’”