The gusher is officially open.
Hillary Clinton’s formal entry into the 2016 presidential race is also the launch of a wildly ambitious fundraising effort. Clinton aides have promised an “insane” push to wring money from donors that might be the most successful ever. By Election Day in 2016, total donations to Clinton’s campaign could approach $1 billion. Barack Obama in 2012 raised a mere $716 million.
Clinton’s most likely GOP opponent — presumed front-runner and former governor of Florida Jeb Bush — is the early favorite among corporate billionaires who long for a Republican in the White House. But Clinton is a formidable fundraiser herself. She raised $329 million during eight years in the Senate and another $229 million running for president in 2008. As a senator from New York, she became intimately familiar with Wall Street’s movers and shakers. And as Secretary of State, she made connections with global business interests.
Clinton will inherit the innovative financing network Barack Obama developed during two terms in the White House. And oh yeah, her husband Bill, once president himself, still has a multitude of of rich and powerful friends, including many who contribute to the Clinton Foundation. “She’s a very, very good fundraiser,” says Bill Allison of the nonprofit Sunlight Foundation, which monitors the role of money in politics. “It won’t surprise me if she has eye-popping numbers.”
There are at least three fundraising groups known as super-PACs already dedicated to supporting Clinton’s campaign: Ready for Hillary, Priorities USA Action and American Bridge 21st Century. Many others will no doubt line up behind her over the next 20 months. The list of Clinton’s possible big-money donors is a long one, but here are five reliable sources of money that will probably form the core of Clinton’s fundraising network:
Lawyers. Law firms have been Clinton’s single biggest source of funds, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, contributing $23 million to her as a senator and another $16.5 million to her 2008 presidential bid. Firms whose employees donate the most: DLA Piper ($1.1 million in total donations to Clinton's various campaigns), Skadden Arps ($626,950), Greenberg Traurig ($466,300) and Kirkland & Ellis ($489,182). All of those firms lobby for corporate clients or have in the past.
Wall Street. When Clinton was a senator from 2001 to 2009, 5 of her 10 biggest funding sources were Wall Street banks: Citigroup (No. 1 with $782,327 in donations), Goldman Sachs (2, $711,490), J.P. Morgan Chase (4, $620,919), Morgan Stanley (6, $543,065) and the now-defunct Lehman Brothers (9, $362,853). Donors from the securities industry overall contributed $11 million to Sen. Clinton. Wall Street CEOs who have helped fund her past campaigns include Jamie Dimon of J.P. Morgan, Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs and James Gorman of Morgan Stanley. They may have soured on Democrats since Clinton was in the Senate, due to aggressive new banking regulations rolled out under Obama. But they may also see Clinton as friendlier toward the financial industry than the current president.
Unions. Though in decline, labor unions are still huge campaign contributors, and most support Democrats. Clinton can count on support from top donors such as the Service Employees International Union ($23.4 million donated to Democratic candidates in 2014), the American Federation of Teachers ($19.4 million), the Carpenters & Joiners Union ($16.2 million) and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees ($10.9 million).
Tom Steyer & Friends. The California hedge-fund manager and Democratic activist has become America’s single-biggest individual campaign donor, with $74 million in contributions in 2014 alone, all of it to Democratic and liberal causes. Steyer has supported Clinton in the past and most likely will again. Other wealthy donors who support Democrats and may very well bankroll Clinton: Chicago entrepreneur Fred Eychaner ($9.7 million donated to Democratic causes in 2014), hedge funders James Simons ($8.2 million) and George Soros ($3.8 million), LinkedIn (LNKD) co-founder Reid Hoffman ($1.1 million), DreamWorks (DWA) CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg ($756,800), and John Doerr ($1.2 million), the Kleiner, Perkins venture capitalist who was a controversial figure in the recent Ellen Pao trial.
Women’s groups. Clinton is the top recipient, after Obama, of money donated since 1990 by groups advocating for women’s issues. The biggest such group is EMILY’s List, which funds pro-choice candidates and has been a big Clinton backer, giving her $7.5 million during her career as a politician.
Clinton’s PAC, Ready for Hillary, has been raising money since last year and has pulled in about $13 million for the campaign. That’s a nice head start over Republican candidates who are just beginning to hunt for money. But Clinton’s early lead carries risks, too: Potential donors might view her as so far ahead that they don’t need to contribute. And a lack of meaningful challengers in state-by-state primary elections could generate complacency. “If she’s not going to be challenged in the primaries, there may be no urgency to give to her,” says Allison.
Clinton must also contend with outsized expectations, given that she and her husband may be the most accomplished fundraising team on the planet. If she ends up running short of the $1 billion total some of her advisors have been whispering about, for instance, critics will call it a failure. The real test, of course, will be whether she wins in November 2016--and what her donors get for their money.
Here's where other presidential hopefuls -- Sen. Rand Paul, Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. Marco Rubio -- are getting their compaign money.
Clarification: This story has been updated to make clear that LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman has donated money to many Democrats but hasn't yet contributed directly to Hillary Clinton's campaign.
Rick Newman’s latest book is Liberty for All: A Manifesto for Reclaiming Financial and Political Freedom. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman.