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Why Republicans envy Bernie Sanders

Rick Newman
Senior Columnist

Capitalists don’t normally envy socialists, but the 2016 presidential election has upset a lot of conventional wisdom. Here’s one more surprise: Left-wing candidate Bernie Sanders has raised more money than every single Republican in the race.

The candidates just submitted their year-end fundraising reports for 2015, and Democrat Sanders raised a total of $73 million. That trailed his rival Hillary Clinton, who pulled in $109 million. But the closest Republican was Ben Carson, with a fundraising haul of $54 million. Here’s how all the candidates fared:

Source: Federal Election Commission.

These totals represent donations to each individual campaign, where the limit is $2,700 per person. They don’t include the big-money groups known as super PACs, which can accept unlimited amounts of money from rich donors. Some candidates, such as Jeb Bush, have raised far more money for their super PACs than for their campaigns. Super PACS can spend money on behalf of a chosen candidate by running ads, making phone calls and doing other types of electioneering. The campaigns, by contrast, fund the candidate’s staff and travel, plus whatever else there’s money for.

Sanders has disavowed super PACs, saying they give rich donors too much influence in politics. And when super PAC money is included, Sanders is outfunded by Republicans Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush. Hillary Clinton outmatches all of them, with roughly $160 million raised so far by her campaign plus the main super PAC in her corner, Priorities USA Action.

Sanders  benefits from being one of just two major candidates in his party running for prez, while the Republicans have had as many as six putative front-runners, plus more than a dozen overall candidates. So Republican donors are spreading their money around, while Democratic donors are mostly concentrated on just two candidates.

Sanders also seems to be gathering steam at a time when other candidates are flatlining. His campaign says it pulled in an additional $20 million in January, a pace of fundraising that's ahead of where Sanders was during the last three months of 2015. His campaign ended the year with $28 million in the bank, second only to Clinton's $38 million. With plenty of cash on hand and more flooding in, Sanders's small-money campaign will outlast some of the big-money ones.

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