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Bernie Sanders accomplished one amazing thing in the 2016 election

Rick Newman
Senior Columnist

He lost. But the presidential bid of Democrat Bernie Sanders was historic in at least one way: He appears to have raised more money for his campaign than any other candidate, including fellow Democrat Hillary Clinton, one of the most adept fundraisers in politics.

Through the end of May, the Sanders campaign had raised an impressive $212.8 million, according to the Federal Election Commission. Clinton raised $211.8 million. It’s possible Clinton’s final fundraising tally for the primaries will end up higher than Sanders, since fundraising for both campaigns continued into June. Even so, a year ago, nobody imagined Sanders would even be close to Clinton in the fight for campaign dollars.

Here are the fundraising totals for the entire campaign through May, for the six candidates who raised the most:

Siources: Federal Election Commission, Center for Responsive Politics

Sanders didn’t just beat Clinton on fundraising – he beat every single Republican as well, and his fundraising total bests the top three Republicans combined. Sanders did it by pulling in smaller donations from a lot more people. About 62% of Sanders’ donations came from people giving less than $200, for instance, while just 21% of Clinton’s donations were below that threshold.

Sanders lacked one big money advantage. He had virtually no support from super PACs able to accept donations of unlimited size from wealthy donors. Jeb Bush took that crown in the primaries, with affiliated super PACs raising $122 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That financial edge bought Bush nothing, of course. In total, wealthy GOP donors gave nearly $400 million to super PACs supporting candidates no longer in the race. For all the money pouring into politics, much of it goes toward losing causes.

Super PACs supporting Clinton have raised $85 million, which helped her attain an overall spending advantage over Sanders. Including both types of funding, Clinton spent about $220 million through the end of May, while Sanders spent about $208 million. (Neither campaign spent quite as much as it raised.) Clinton’s super PACs still have nearly $50 million on hand as a starter fund as she begins battling Republican foe Donald Trump.

All that Sanders money Sanders didn’t buy victory, but it helped him stay competitive right up till the eve of the final state primaries in California and five other states. Not bad. For a self-described “socialist,” Sanders turns out to be a darn good pitchman.

Rick Newman’s latest book is Liberty for All: A Manifesto for Reclaiming Financial and Political Freedom. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman.