Which Presidential Candidate Spends the Most on Promotional Products?
The 2016 presidential election is projected to be the most expensive in U.S history. The Los Angeles Times reported that political advertising spending—which makes up the bulk of all campaign costs—is projected to hit $6 billion by Nov. 8. This year, marketing spend alone will be almost as much the entire 2012 election, and total costs for 2016 are estimated to reach $7.5 billion.
All those contributions have to go somewhere. Campaigns are required to disclose financial information to the Federal Election Commission (FEC), an independent regulatory agency. The FEC makes these filings public, giving citizens the closest possible view inside a campaign and an idea of how their contributions are spent.
The most recent release of campaign finance information covers costs for January 2016 and includes spending for the six candidates still in the race. The filings show not only how campaigns generate their budgets, but also how they spend them.
Total campaign expenses for the month show a wide range, from $2 million to just less than $35 million. Where does all that money go? Aside from the typical TV spots and billboards, a portion of each candidate’s budget goes toward political campaign products. Those signs, T-shirts and bumper stickers are among the most recognizable campaign products and are integral for any political career.
Which presidential candidate spends the most on promotional products? We've combed each campaign’s FEC filling and highlighted relevant marketing costs, along with total budget for January 2016, below.
Hillary Clinton: Clinton's campaign, Hillary for America, showed $19,918,792 in total expenses on its FEC report, the second-highest among all candidates still in the running. Of that, approximately $12,293,749 was earmarked for marketing programs. “Merchandise fulfillment” spend was $147,399 for the month, equal to 0.74 percent of her total monthly budget. It should be noted that the “merchandise fulfillment” charges might not exclusively be for promotional products.
Sen. Ted Cruz: Cruz’s campaign, Cruz for President, reported $12,664,023 in campaign expenses for January, the highest amount among all Republican candidates. About half of that amount, $6,025,409.25, was spent on marketing and advertising initiatives. Collateral materials costs—listed as banners, flags, pins, stickers, shirts, hats, cups and signs—totaled $232,198, or 1.83 percent of the campaign’s budget.
Gov. John Kasich: Kasich for America, Kasich’s campaign, spent a modest $2,127,183 in January, the lowest amount of any presidential candidate that month. Although his campaign spent $1,033,940 on advertising, Kasich had just two charges for promotional products in January: one $590 charge for banners and another $650 charge for a display table, for a total of $1,240. That's just 0.05 percent of Kasich's monthly spend.
Sen. Marco Rubio: The Marco Rubio for President campaign spent $10,285,749 in the first month of the year, with $6,881,578 of that on marketing. Rubio's campaign listed one charge in January for "T-shirts/bumper stickers/signs" totaling $27,901, equal to 0.27 percent of his budget.
Sen. Bernie Sanders: Bernie 2016, the campaign for Sanders, claimed the highest costs for the month at $34,931,085, two-thirds of which—$25,506,619—went toward marketing and advertising. The Sanders campaign claimed $907,068 for “campaign paraphernalia,” which made up 2.60 percent of the campaign budget for the month. As with Clinton, Sanders' “campaign paraphernalia” charges may not be limited to promotional products.
Donald Trump: The Donald J. Trump for President Inc. campaign reported $11,500,705 in expenses for January 2016, and $8,640,666 of that amount—75 percent of his total spending—went to marketing. Trump’s campaign paid $912,397 for promotional hats, knit caps, T-shirts, mugs and stickers, equal to 7.93 percent of the campaign’s January expenses.
When it comes to political campaign products, Trump takes the lead in both dollar amount and percentage of total budget in January, followed closely by Sanders, who trailed by just $5,329. The rest of the candidates fall far behind, with combined promotional costs totaling less than either of the two biggest spenders.
The real winner, however, is the promotional products industry: The six candidates above spent a total $2,228,204 on political campaign products in a single month. It gives “voting with your dollar” a whole new meaning.