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Politics & Policy

‘Burn Rate’

The presidential campaigns are filing their second-quarter finance reports with the FEC today. Several have already come in; others are waiting until the last minute. I mentioned a couple days ago that “cash on hand” is the number to pay attention to, and that the “burn rate,” which reflects how quickly the campaign is spending the money it’s raising, is the important statistic. 

We knew Monday that Marco Rubio’s burn rate was 19 percent, which is low. Based on the additional reports filed today, we know that Jeb Bush has spent about $3 million of the $11.4 million he’s raised, giving him about a 26 percent burn rate, which is also relatively low. Bobby Jindal has raised just $578,000, but spent virtually nothing, just 11 percent of that. 

Then there are those in less solid shape. Rick Perry raised $11.3 million this quarter and spent $5.9 million, about a 50% burn rate. It’s worth noting that in 2012, while Perry was a tremendously successful fundraiser, his burn rate was an issue for him: He spent over 80 percent of the whopping $20 million he brought in in the third and fourth quarters of 2011.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Ben Carson is in similar shape: His burn rate is also around 50 percent. The big difference is that the vast majority of the Carson campaign’s spending, 72 percent of it, was on fundraising. The sort of low-dollar fundraising Carson is doing is also expensive. It’s not necessarily indicative of a badly run campaign, though Carson’s staffers also happen to be making a lot of money, which can suggest the campaign is making some bad decisions. Carson’s FEC report isn’t online yet — the WSJ got a preview — but to determine what exactly is going on, somebody will need to compare how much money the campaign has raised to how much it’s spending to raise that money. 

The New York Times notes that none of these numbers reflect the growing influence of super PACs, which is true. In most cases, the amount of money raised and spent by the super PACs supporting the various candidates will dwarf the amount raised and spent by their campaigns. But it’s also true that the super PACs aren’t a substitute for the campaigns, simply because they don’t have access to the candidates and therefore can’t effectively advance the campaign’s (positive) message. 

So yes, the super PACs matter quite a bit, but don’t write off these numbers as a result.  


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