Billionaire Or Bust: Who Are Rich Backers Lining Up With? : It's All Politics Since the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, money in politics has exploded. To make it in the 2016 presidential race, candidates need their own billionaire. Here's who's lining up with whom.
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Billionaire Or Bust: Who Are Rich Backers Lining Up With?

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Billionaire Or Bust: Who Are Rich Backers Lining Up With?

Billionaire Or Bust: Who Are Rich Backers Lining Up With?

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

OK, so it's still early in the presidential race for candidates to go looking for a potential vice president, but plenty are seeking a different kind of running mate - a billionaire. Candidates need multimillion-dollar superPACs to help them win, and those superPACs need wealthy donors, so the hunt is on, as NPR's Peter Overby reports.

PETER OVERBY, BYLINE: Jeb Bush was pleading for money. Late last month, a fundraising email sent in his name asked for $100, $50, $25 - or anything you can spare right now. Bush said his political action committee still needed $5,674 to meet a monthly goal. The same day his organization hit send on that email, Bush was was talking about big-donor fundraising for his superPAC - $100 million so far - some of it solicited by Bush himself.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FACE THE NATION")

43RD GOV JEB BUSH: We're going to completely adhere to the law, for sure.

OVERBY: Bush was on CBS's "Face The Nation." He was defending this arrangement because the law keeps candidates from raising superPAC-level money, and a superPAC is supposed to be independent of the candidate's campaign.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FACE THE NATION")

BUSH: There'll be no coordination at all with any superPAC.

OVERBY: As Bush approaches officially running for the Republican nomination, he's been drawling on a vast donor network, built over decades through his own campaigns and those of his father and brother. The network comes with ready-made advantages, and it's the envy of the field. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said as much in April on WMUR TV in New Hampshire.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SEN/PRES CAND TED CRUZ: There's no doubt in the world of donors that Jeb Bush is Mick Jagger and the Beatles rolled into one.

OVERBY: Nearly every candidate wants a billionaire or billionaires to pick up the hefty tab for a superPAC, Ted Cruz included. His operation has a superPAC basically dedicated to hedge-fund billionaire Robert Mercer and three more superPACs besides. Together, they've reportedly raised $37 million. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has Miami businessman Norman Braman on board. Braman talked about Rubio back in March on "Fox News."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FOX NEWS")

NORMAN BRAMAN: I just believe in him. I've known him for eight years and - and I'm not alone. We're going to raise the money.

OVERBY: And Rick Santorum still has businessman Foster Friess, who traveled with the candidate in 2012, while financing his superPAC at the same time. Friess was interviewed by Bloomberg News late last month.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FOSTER FRIESS: I think I want to be a little more profile. And the amount of money I'm going to give is kind of between myself and my family and Rick.

OVERBY: Less than six weeks from now, superPACs will have to disclose their donors. Friess said he has ways around that.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FRIESS: You'll find out my giving maybe if you work real hard, but I'm going to make it hard for you to find out where I'm giving and how I'm giving.

OVERBY: Not all of the candidates have friends like Friess - Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, for example. It was thought that Paul's libertarian stances would appeal to Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. Things haven't worked out that way. Paul has struggled to find a billionaire to call his own. Craig Shirley's a campaign consultant turned Ronald Reagan historian. He said he used to think voters would have problems with billionaire-financed superPACs.

CRAIG SHIRLEY: But everybody's become so inured to billionaires playing in national politics that they've just kind of come to accept it.

OVERBY: On the Republican side, yes. Democrats are more conflicted. On her first day campaigning in Iowa, Hillary Clinton pledged to fix the political money system.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRES CAND HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: And get unaccountable money out of it once and for all, even if that takes a constitutional amendment.

OVERBY: But Clinton's operation is struggling to drum up support for its own superPAC. Wealthy liberals are reluctant this early in the race. It's starting to look like a rerun from four years ago. Then the Democrats presidential superPAC didn't really get rolling until August 2012, three months before Election Day. Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.

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