Republican Donald Trump raised half of what Democrat Hillary Clinton did and still barreled past her to win Tuesday’s presidential election.
California billionaire Tom Steyer, who directed more than $60 million of his hedge-fund fortune to help persuade voters to turn out for Democrats, saw Republicans sweep to control of the White House and both chambers of Congress.
The 2016 elections became the latest in a string of volatile federal elections to challenge long-standing notions about the role of money in politics. The 2010 midterm congressional races, for instance, saw upstart Tea Party candidates topple well-funded incumbents around the country as voters grappled with a tough economy and concerns about the Affordable Care Act.
Money can help in a competitive race, but “it can’t make up for a sea change in the views of the electorate,” said Fred Malek, a veteran Republican fundraiser who is finance chairman of the Republican Governors Association.
But the 2016 president contest marks the first time since the 1996 showdown between Bob Dole and Bill Clinton showdown in which the president-elect has raised less money than his rival, according to a review by the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics.
From the start, Trump took an unorthodox approach to fundraising.
The real-estate magnate did not start raising money in earnest until late May, and he pumped about $66 million of his own cash into the contest. When several of his GOP rivals flew to a Southern California resort last year to court conservative billionaire Charles Koch and his network of super-rich donors, Trump taunted them on Twitter as “puppets” there to “beg for money.”
In the final months of the campaign, Trump collaborated with the Republican National Committee on high-dollar fundraising events, but his long-shot bid also was fueled by small donors.Contributions of $200 or less accounted for about 64% of his total donations from others. By contrast, about 26% of Clinton’s donations through Oct. 19 came in amounts that small.
“We had enough money and the right candidate. It’s as simple as that,” said Lewis Eisenberg, the Republican National Committee’s finance chairman.
"Secretary Clinton had all the money, all the Hollywood talent, most of the media and everything else with her. The United States of America and the citizens of this country are too smart,” he said. “It’s not a one-element equation. He had the message that was resonating in the country.”
Although outside groups helping Clinton far outspent those backing Trump, a small cluster of wealthy Republicans did emerge to help in the campaign’s final months. Hedge-fund billionaire Robert Mercer, for instance, funded a super PAC that ran digital ads targeting Clinton. Diane Hendricks, Wisconsin’s richest woman, put millions more into another committee that ran ads attacking Clinton and Democrat Senate contender Russ Feingold in the Badger State.
Both Democrats lost Wisconsin.
Steyer was the Democratic Party's top super PAC donor as of mid-October and sought to mobilize voters who care about the environment and other liberal issues to vote. In an interview Wednesday, Steyer said he accomplished several of his goals, including boosting turnout among Millennial voters in parts of key battleground states.
Steyer is weighing a bid for California governor and pointed to his successes there on Election Day, including his help passing a $2-a-pack cigarette tax.
He said the country’s most populous state offers “intellectual leadership” for other states. “We feel yesterday was a strong statement from California of a different way to look at the future than Donald Trump’s."