But for all the fretting, the fact that it takes fewer donors to sustain a presidential campaign is healthy for democracy because it makes it easier for underdogs to compete. The most important consequence of super PACs is that they lower the barrier to entry, not that they give the wealthiest candidate an insurmountable advantage.
The paradox of this presidential election is that despite the record amount of money that will be poured into the race over the next 18 months, fundraising actually will matter less than in recent presidential campaigns, and the value of retail political talent will be at a premium. Each individual donation matters less when the pot is so large and nearly every viable candidate boasts a number of super-donors, meaning no one uber-wealthy donor can reshape the race in his or her image.
There's massive inflation taking place in the world of campaign finance. The value of a buck—or a million of them—isn't what it used to be. What's most important is the number of candidates that can reach a certain financial level to compete in the early states. Simply racking up eye-popping fundraising numbers isn't as important; there's a diminishing law of return past a certain dollar amount.
"It used to be you had to do all this laborious fundraising, one fundraiser at a time, and you had to do that a lot. You had to go to a million of these agonizing rubber chicken dinners," said Republican strategist Rick Wilson. "Now you just have to build a relationship with a handful of multimillionaires."
Just look at how the current, crowded Republican primary is already playing out. When Jeb Bush entered the race, the early thinking was that his fundraising ability and connection to lifelong Bush donors would grant him frontrunner status. At the least, his stature in Florida would block the path of his in-state Republican rival, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. But in practice, Rubio plowed ahead with his own presidential campaign, and is securing support from his own group of wealthy donors, including Miami businessman Norman Braman and,potentially, Sheldon Adelson. Despite the shock-and-awe efforts from Jebworld, Rubio leads his mentor in the latest two national GOP primary polls.