Sen. Marco Rubio, who is likely to formally declare his intention to run for president later this month, already has built an operation that brought in cash from all corners of the nation and banked more money than similar congressional fundraising operations.
It’s a good start for the Republican from West Miami, if he expects to compete in a crowded GOP field that will kick off its 2016 presidential race 10 months from now in Iowa and New Hampshire.
So far, most of the attention on fundraising has centered on former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who has ambitious goals to collect big establishment money and is presumed to be in position to lap the field in the money race.
Rubio is playing a different game, experts say: He won’t have to match Bush but will need to bring in enough big donors — such as Miami auto magnate Norman Braman — to show he’s a viable presidential candidate. Braman has said he’s prepared to make a significant investment, rumored to be around $10 million.
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So far, the first-term senator has built a nationwide network involving three fundraising committees that, combined, took in $14 million during 2013-2014 — a time Rubio had no election himself.
While much of that money already has gone out in support for other candidates as well as for more fundraising, consulting and other expenses, the breadth and scope of his two-year haul demonstrates an ability to raise substantial money — something that will help as his presidential campaign ramps up.
Rubio has three separate fundraising vehicles: his regular Senate campaign committee; what’s known as a leadership political action committee, which raises and spends money often to help other candidates; and a joint committee that takes in contributions and funnels them either to the Senate fund or the leadership PAC.
As for Bush, the former governor and those working on his behalf, according to various media reports, have an audacious goal to raise $100 million in the first quarter of 2015. That’s a figure that could both scare off potential competitors and lock up key Republican donors.
Asked about the $100 million figure, Bush spokeswoman Allie Brandenburger in an email said, “Some passionate GOP finance leaders who are supporting Gov. Bush’s political efforts offered up that number, and we are very flattered but our actual, more pragmatic fundraising goals are far more modest.”
Whatever Bush’s totals, Rubio wouldn’t be expected to match them — only to show that he’s capable of connecting with donors and raising money, according to Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based nonprofit that tracks political money.
“Between now and Iowa, I don’t think the expectations for a Marco Rubio are the same as for the presumed front-runner, Bush,” Krumholz said. “Rubio needs to prove he has the fundraising prowess to be competitive, and to say, `I’m serious, I’m capable of energizing and broadening my base.’ He needs to create buzz and excitement — and it would be a big boost if it’s accompanied by a major sum of money.”
Darrell West, vice president of governance studies at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, added: “Everyone expects Bush to have the largest war chest, so the question is who will come in two, three and four. Rubio doesn’t have to out-raise Bush, but he needs to be competitive with Walker, Paul and Cruz. If he can hold his own with those individuals, then he is a contender. If he is in the middle of the pack among likely candidates, that would create problems for his long-term sustainability.”
In visible fund raising to-date, Rubio has more than held his own against his two Senate colleagues also running or expected to: Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas. (Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin, is in a different category than the three senators.)
Rubio and Paul were elected in 2010, Cruz in 2012 — so none of the three had active re-election races during the most recent two-year cycle, ending Dec. 31, 2014.
But looking at the combined contributions into the senators’ three fundraising operations — all have Senate, leadership and joint committees — Rubio pulled in the most: $14 million. Paul had $10 million, and Cruz $8.5 million, according to Federal Election Commission data for 2013-14.
While that money can be used to help the three potential candidates prepare for a presidential run, it is used for many other purposes — including some contributions to their fellow politicians in 2014. But campaign finance experts say it demonstrates the senators’ ability to raise substantial money.
Rubio, in fact, has one of the top joint fundraising committees and one of the top leadership PACs in Congress.
Further, he’s shown the ability to raise money from throughout the country. That’s an indication Rubio has emphasized fundraising in the run-up to a national campaign, Krumholz said.
“The broad geographic diversity means he’s been laying the groundwork, conducting strategic fundraising and outreach to build his name recognition,” she said.
Of itemized individual contributions to Rubio’s three committees, the biggest source is Florida — at some 42 percent — but every state in the country is represented. He pulled in 16 percent of those contributions from California; 8 percent from Texas; 4 percent each from New York and Illinois; and 3 percent each from Virginia and Massachusetts.
The contributions range from more than $3 million from Florida to less than $2,000 from Alaska.
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Miami Herald political reporter Patricia Mazzei and Lesley Clark of the Washington Bureau contributed to this story.