Big Money But Few Votes, The Tale Of Jeb Bush's Super Pac
When Right To Rise USA was formed last year, it was supposed to be a game changer. A Super PAC with a massive bank account created for one purpose, make Jeb Bush the 45th president of the United States.
Right to Rise has inundated Iowa, New Hampshire and now South Carolina with ads but so far the group may have authored a cautionary tale rather than the playbook for big money politics.
When Jeb Bush announced the launch of Right to Rise, it was a decidedly low tech affair recorded on a smart phone.
"Today, we’re setting up the Right to Rise PAC," explains Bush, "which is a PAC to support candidates which believe in conservative principles." That PAC begat a Super PAC which can accept unlimited contributions. And those contributions begat a behemoth.
"There is no bigger Super PAC than Right To Rise USA," says Michael Beckel, a reporter with the Center For Public Integrity who tracks Super PAC contributions and how they spend their money. "In 2015, Right to Rise raised about $120 million."
This year the donations continue to come in but at a markedly slower pace. As for spending, that side of the ledger has exploded.
Analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project found more than 44,000 Republican presidential political ads ran by early December of last year.
Right to Rise paid for nearly one in every four of those ads. Including this one touting Bush's record while serving as the governor of Florida.
But all that airtime burned through its bank account. More than $84 million has been spent to date.
In Iowa alone, the Super PAC ran 10,355 TV spots. Jeb Bush finished in sixth place with just 5,200 votes. "In Iowa they aired about twice as many ads as Bush, himself, got votes in the caucus," Beckel says, "so they haven’t had a great return on investment."
Jeb Bush did better in New Hampshire, finishing fourth.
But now that the race has moved to South Carolina, Right to Rise has slowed its spending. Where it once dominated the ad war, the Super PAC now ranks third in South Carolina according to data from Kantar media. Right to Rise still airs a TV ad in the state every 8 minutes. But that’s behind pro Ted Cruz groups which air an ad every 4 minutes. And pro Marco Rubio groups that air a spot every 5 minutes.
And Right to Rise is buying airtime on radio which is less expensive. Like this spot questioning Donald Trump's salty language.
We’ll know if this strategy works when the South Carolina GOP primary votes are tallied on Saturday.
But if Iowa and New Hampshire are any guide it may not. Jeb Bush was once considered the Republican front-runner. Now he’s fighting to stay relevant despite the best efforts of Right to Rise. And that, says Beckel, may be the lesson. "Yeah, I think they came out of the gates, guns ablazing. They projected this image of strength saying this is how much money we’ve got in the bank. And the story of their spending so far is that candidates matter too."
As for the candidate, Bush says he’s had a change of heart on the Citizens United ruling that allowed him to launch Right to Rise in the first place. Here’s what he told a crowd the day before the New Hampshire Primary
The audio is a bit hard to understand but here’s the gist - Bush would back a constitutional amendment outlawing Super PACs in favor of a system where campaigns get all the cash directly. But, in the meantime, Right to Rise continues to be a key part in Bush’s campaign.