The Slatest

Jeb’s Super PAC Is Blowing Some of Its Vast Monies on a TV Documentary

Jeb Bush speaks at the Road to Majority conference on June 19, 2015, in Washington, D.C.

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Jeb Bush is running out of time, but he may never run out of money.

The New York Times reported on Thursday that the Bush-aligned Right to Rise super PAC plans to air a 15-minute pro-Jeb documentary in New Hampshire before the GOP primary, which is shaping up to be a must-win for the former Florida governor. “This is another way for us to tell Jeb’s story and provide more context and background about his positive vision for the country beyond what voters see in a 30-second TV spot,” Right to Rise spokesman Paul Lindsay told the paper.

The splashy TV buy isn’t entirely unprecedented, but it is certainly unusual, especially during a primary. It’s also a reminder that the Bush super PAC has so much money that it barely knows what to do with it. The group brought in more than $100 million in first half of this year, a total that—even with Jeb’s struggles—has continued to grow this fall. It’s hard to overstate just how much of an advantage in outside money Bush has over his more popular rivals. Through the end of June, Bush-aligned groups reported bringing in $108.5 million since the start of the year, roughly $70 million more than his closest outside-money rival (Ted Cruz) and more than the combined total of every Republican not named Jeb still in the 2016 race. Even before a recent spending binge last month, Bush and his allies were outspending their rivals on the airwaves by more than a 2-to-1 margin and still had plenty in the bank.

Bush began the year as his party’s de facto favorite in large part because his access to his family’s vast network of GOP megadonors was supposed to fuel a “shock and awe” campaign that would make short work of his less-moneyed rivals. The only thing shocking about his campaign so far, though, is how poorly it’s gone. The former front-runner currently sits in a distant fifth-place in a recent average of national polls with less than 5 percent—about 25 points behind polling leader Donald Trump and nearly 9 points behind Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. It’s a similar story in the early voting states: Bush is fifth in Iowa, sixth in New Hampshire, and fifth in South Carolina.

Jeb, though, isn’t the only example of how super PAC cash has yet to produce the type of return on investment that many deep-pocketed donors hoped—and campaign reform advocates feared—heading into this campaign cycle. Scott Walker and Rick Perry had two of the better-funded super PACs in the GOP field, and yet both dropped out well before the 2016 starting gates. Those still in the race are learning a similar lesson. NBC News crunched the numbers this week and found that campaign ads—the primary tool of the super PAC—don’t appear to be paying dividends in the way you might expect. Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Ted Cruz sit 1-2-3 in multiple recent national polls, yet they and their allies have been outspent 16 to 1 by the likes of Bush, Marco Rubio, and John Kasich and their friends. One big reason for that may be that a super PAC dollar doesn’t go nearly as far as one raised directly by the campaigns since the outside groups typically have to pay much higher ad rates than candidates do.

Bush’s super PAC isn’t saying how much it is spending to air the documentary, which the campaign will also post online this weekend. Regardless, it’s hard to imagine it will have a noticeable impact on either the group’s bank account or Jeb’s standing in the polls. The Times reports it “will talk about Mr. Bush’s record as the governor of Florida, as well as describe his vision for the future, including his plans to defeat the Islamic State and overhaul the federal government.” Those are the same things Bush has been touting on the stump and that his super PAC has been selling via their current TV and radio ads. Still, with the 2016 nominating contest officially kicking off in less than two months, the Right to Rise team might as well live out their Brewster’s Millions fantasy while they still can.

Read more of Slate’s coverage of the GOP primary.