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Bad Bets

The Failure of Money to Buy the Presidential Nomination, in One Chart

Some of the campaigns that are spending the most are also doing the worst.
Jeb Bush speaks during a campaign event in North Charleston, South Carolina, on Feb. 15, 2016.

Jeb Bush speaks during a campaign event in North Charleston, South Carolina, on Feb. 15, 2016.

Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

The current U.S. presidential race is on pace to be the most expensive ever. Outside groups known as super-PACs are playing an unprecedented role, dominating the first few months of fundraising by collecting checks of $1 million or more from wealthy individuals. These groups raised about $348 million in 2015, compared with about $438 million gathered by the campaigns themselves, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.

What's all that money bought? For Jeb Bush, not much. His super-PAC's massive expenditures on TV ads have failed to stop a decline in the polls for the Republican nomination. Meanwhile, Donald Trump rocketed to the top by spending relatively little. In part, this was because Trump proved adept at generating free publicity.