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Republicans are expected to spend a record-setting $1 billion in this GOP primary

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Presidential campaigns cost a lot of money. Just ask the character Connor Roy from the show "Succession."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SUCCESSION")

ALAN RUCK: (As Connor Roy) I'm just wondering if I can hit you for, like, a little hundred mil.

BRIAN COX: (As Logan Roy) A little hundred mil?

RUCK: (As Connor Roy) Yeah.

COX: (As Logan Roy) Well, you know, maybe. Maybe. But you have to quit your campaign.

SHAPIRO: Connor Roy there asking his father, billionaire Logan Roy, for just a little hundred mil for his campaign, which, at the time, was polling around 1%.

That is actually not too far off from real life. Candidates need big donors, even if it means hitting up dad for cash. And with the number of candidates running in this year's GOP primary, our senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro tells us it could be the most expensive ever. Hey, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: How much money are people expecting Republicans to spend on this primary, which is getting pretty crowded?

MONTANARO: Yeah, I talked to the experts at OpenSecrets, which tracks campaign finance, and they believe it could approach or surpass $1 billion just for this primary. That would be the first time for a GOP primary. It wouldn't be overall a record - you know, that belongs to the 2020 Democrats because largely two billionaires who ran spent a ton of money. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, you might remember, himself spent more than a billion dollars with very little to show for it.

SHAPIRO: It's still a lot of money. So how does that potential billion-dollar figure break down?

MONTANARO: Well, Republican candidates are expected to spend around $500 million, which is up from $400 million in 2020. Sarah Bryner is the research director at OpenSecrets and says that there's a big chunk of cash that's expected to be dropped too.

SARAH BRYNER: Really, the wild card here is how much we can expect to see in fundraising and spending by super PACs. And those are subject to a lot more fluctuation because you could have one billionaire come in, drop a million dollars, and that really changes the fundraising game.

MONTANARO: Yeah. So you have candidates with deep pockets and super PACs with well-heeled big donors. And there's another structural factor here, Ari. The maximum amount people are allowed to give now has gone up. It went from 2,800 for primaries to 3,300 now. And that means people can max out at 6,600 when you include the general election.

SHAPIRO: A lot of those 6,600s may add up to a billion, I guess. Why did that increase happen?

MONTANARO: It's interesting. Congress actually tied the max amount that people can give to inflation. And since inflation has been so high the last couple of years, it automatically jumped, which, in turn, means they can raise more money. It's amazing that Congress can index campaign giving to inflation but can't do it for something like the minimum wage, which hasn't increased since 2009, and it's only $7.25.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. So where does all that money go?

MONTANARO: No. 1 thing is ads, ads, ads. TV still gets the lion's share, but targeted ads on digital are playing a bigger and bigger part of campaigns. But how the money gets from campaigns to your radios and TV screens is notable. Here's Sarah Bryner, the research director at OpenSecrets, again.

BRYNER: The biggest elephant in the room by far is that they spend money on advertising, and they do that by paying media consultants to buy that advertising for them. But over 60% of campaign fundraising, super PAC fundraising, goes to media firms. And so that's, you know, far and away the biggest place that money goes.

MONTANARO: The other biggie is staff, of course. Obviously, it takes a lot of people to run a professional presidential campaign.

SHAPIRO: Candidates must spend tons of time raising that money if running costs so much.

MONTANARO: Yeah, they really do. You know, here's Sarah Bryner again.

BRYNER: Theoretically, you're also supposed to be actually legislating or running your state or what have you, but I think it's a full-time job.

MONTANARO: Yeah. I mean, for context, members of Congress in past years have been told to spend some four hours a day essentially dialing for dollars unless they can get one of those big billionaire supporters who can fund a super PAC, which would take some of the pressure off of them having to spend all that time fundraising.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Domenico Montanaro, thanks.

MONTANARO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.

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