John Bolton, a former U.N. ambassador, familiar face from the George W. Bush administration, foreign policy hawk and skilled stirrer of self-promoting presidential gossip, has had a very good year so far — at least in the fundraising department.
His political action committee and super PAC (PACs can give limited donations to political candidates, while super PACs can collect unlimited donations for independent expenditures such as campaign ads) — formed to support hawkish candidates and make national security an issue on the midterm campaign trail — raised more than $2.3 million during the Federal Election Commission's second filing quarter, from more than 20,000 donations. More important, the groups still have about $3 million in the bank ready to burn. Unlike many super PACs, which have spent big during a primary season defined by intraparty squabbles, Bolton's super PAC has been saving for the big show. Most of the expenditures have been related to consulting and fundraising -- and have been minimal.
How the heck did Bolton raise millions of dollars for foreign policy during a midterm campaign season? And where might he spend it?
He may not have been spending much money, but Bolton has been assembling an impressive list of e-mail addresses, if his Web footprint is any indicator. And as we've learned in recent presidential campaigns, few things are more important to a nascent presidential bid than a long e-mail list of people who have opened their pockets to you before. Hmm, this Bolton super PAC business is starting to make a lot of sense.
Something this PAC and super PAC have been spending money on in 2014 are Web ads.
Bolton's face has been popping up quite a bit lately. If you search "Benghazi," a Bolton-sponsored tweet is the first thing that greets you.
And if you sign his Twitter petition, you probably will be added to his PAC's e-mail list -- and are headed toward becoming a potential donor.
If you search "politics," oh, look, there he is again!
If you search "GOP," again, we find Bolton.
The two organizations also have raised money from direct-mail appeals — which Republicans have often continued to rely on despite the glamour of Internet fundraising. Those older than 65 are the most likely to support the GOP, and the least likely to use the Internet regularly.
Direct-mail campaigns and Internet petitions can sometimes feel like the political equivalent of potato salad Kickstarters. Even if you aren't the Rand Paul or Reading Rainbow of campaigns, you will always be able to find people to donate to your dreams. You just need to find the right people.
And Bolton clearly knows where to find his people.
What about the Bolton PAC and super PAC's 2014 spending?
In practice, Bolton's few PAC donations have looked less focused on supporting national security candidates than simply supporting candidates in close contests who could help determine whether Republicans will control Congress next year.
His PAC has donated money to Rep. Tom Cotton (R), who is running against Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor in Arkansas. The PAC has donated to Joni Ernst and Terri Lynn Land, the Republican challengers in the Iowa and Michigan Senate races, and to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky. These Senate races are among the year's closest -- and they have drawn millions from handfuls of groups, most focused on domestic issues.
The PAC also has donated to a few House candidates -- Martha McSally in Arizona's 2nd District, Barbara Comstock in Virginia's 10th District, Rep. Adam Kinzinger in Illinois's 16th District, Robert Dold in Illinois's 10th District and Rep. Mike Pompeo in Kansas's 4th District.
Having indebted friends in Congress — also useful for long-shot presidential candidates!
Whether Bolton's financial activities are more focused on 2014 or 2016, he still has a lot of money to spread around — and there are clues to where he might spend the rest.
Cotton, McSally, Ernst, Kinzinger and Pompeo all have military experience. The PAC arm of Bolton's 2014 efforts has about $400,000 left for direct donations to candidates and organizations. If you want to know where it might be heading, elections with Republicans with military experience would be a good place to start. Think Scott Brown in the Senate race in New Hampshire or Sen. Thad Cochran in Mississippi.
Bolton's super PAC, which has made no independent expenditures this cycle and has $2.5 million on hand, as we mentioned, hopes to make national security an issue in 2014. Good luck with that.
Not only are people not interested AT ALL in foreign policy (per usual) but Bolton's super PAC still has far less money to spend than other domestic policy-oriented (or politics-oriented) PACs -- ones that have spent more than Bolton's super PAC has on hand and still have millions upon millions to spend.
It seems unlikely that Bolton is going to get many voters outside his petition-happy donor base to vote on these issues. And if he decides to mount a presidential campaign, he still is unlikely to get many voters outside his e-mail list to care about these issues. He has millions to prove that he's at least going to try.