The presidential election cycle is in full swing, with five contenders still competing for their respective party’s nomination. Using data from the Federal Election Commission (FEC), we looked at the operating expenses for all five campaigns. Specifically, we were interested in what each campaign spends the most money on and how each campaign pays its staff. The FEC data may not provide a complete picture of campaign expenses or payroll, as super PACs may hire or spend on behalf of a campaign (see our methodology section below for more details).
- Campaign Staff Positions & Salaries
- Top 10 Campaign Expenditures
- Cruz's and Kasich's campaign pay the highest salaries, on average, while Sanders' campaign pays the lowest
- Of five national campaign roles we evaluated, Clinton's campaign pays the most for Operations Director, Press Secretary and Digital Director, Cruz's campaign pays the most for Communications Director and Trump's campaign pays the most for Political Director
- Sanders' and Trump's campaign have spent the most on campaign merchandise (Trump's campaign has spent over $850,000 on hats alone)
- Sanders' campaign has spent the most on media buy ($24 million) and Kasich's campaign has spent the least ($500,000)
We estimated the average salaries below for each campaign, both including and excluding field and organizing positions of all levels. Without field and organizing positions, Cruz's campaign, on average, has the highest paid staffers at approximately $62,000 per position and Sanders' campaign has the lowest average at $51,000 per position. Trump's and Kasich's campaigns are close behind Cruz's at approximately $59,000 per position. If we include field and organizing positions, Kasich's campaign, instead of Cruz's, pays the most at $57,000 per position.
|Campaign||Average Salary (with field positions)||Average Salary (without field positions)|
Averages only tell part of the story, so we decided to compare salaries by position. Not every campaign has the same roles, but we looked at five national, high-ranking roles that appeared on the payroll of at least 4 campaigns. The roles we evaluated were Communications Director, Digital Director, Operations Director, Press Secretary and Political Director. The salaries we list below are estimates based on the bi-weekly paychecks reported in payroll.
All campaigns, except Trump’s, had the above roles listed on their payroll (Trump did not have these roles or equivalent roles listed on his payroll). Kasich's and Sanders' campaigns are estimated to pay the least -- Sanders' campaign, for example, pays an estimated $39,840 to its Digital Director. Our estimates show that Clinton's campaign pays the most for these four positions, except for Communications Director, which Cruz's campaign pays an estimated $180,000. These large differences in pay could be due to the importance of the role within the campaign.
The final position we evaluated was Political Director, which appeared on the payroll for the Trump, Cruz, Clinton and Kasich campaigns. The estimated salary for this role ranged from just shy of $90,000 paid by Kasich's campaign to $240,000 paid by Trump's campaign. Sanders' campaign did not have this role or an equivalent role listed on the payroll. This does not mean that Sanders' campaign doesn't have this position, but rather that Sanders' Political Director may be paid as a consultant or contractor and thus would not appear on the campaign's payroll.
Salaries aside, we were also curious what departments, such as outreach, digital or operations, were the most staffed in each campaign. Again, we excluded field and organizing from our analysis as not every campaign includes all of those roles and there may be 100 field positions for every 10 to 50 non-field positions. Each role we evaluated was classified into one of 10 departments: compliance and legal, data and analytics, digital and communications, finance, marketing and merchandise, outreach, policy and politics, strategy and operations, technology and other.
Roles in digital and communications, strategy and operations and policy and politics account for a large number of staff in most campaigns. Kasich’s campaign, for instance, has 85% of its non-field staff allocated to one of these types of roles. Clinton’s campaign also has many digital and communications staff, but also a large number of finance staff. This is drastically different from both Sanders’ and Trump’s campaign, as neither of these campaigns reports finance staff on the payroll. These may be positions that each campaign contracts or consults out, so these positions would not appear on the campaign’s payroll.
Sanders’ has the highest percentage of staff in strategy and operations roles and outreach roles at 37% and 15% respectively. Trump’s campaign also has a high number of strategy and operations staff and is tied with Cruz’s for the highest percentage of policy and politics roles. Similar to Clinton’s campaign, Cruz’s campaign also has a significant number of finance roles, at 15%.
It’s difficult to compare the total amount spent by each campaign, since money may be spent by super PACs instead of the campaign itself. Instead of evaluating which campaign has spent the most, we looked at what each campaign spends its money on. Below, we list the top ten expense categories for each campaign. While payroll and media/advertising rank high in all campaigns, there are some significant differences in the other types of expenses for each campaign. For example, the Kasich campaign has spent quite a bit of money on consulting: online consulting, finance consulting and fundraising consulting among others. The Sanders and Trump campaigns have spent $6.8 million and $2.7 million respectively on campaign paraphernalia, such as t-shirts, hats, stickers, bumper logos, signs and badges. Of that $2.7 million, the Trump campaign has spent over $850,000 (or over 30%) alone on hats. That’s a lot of hats.
|Payroll||$1.83M||Media buy||$16.6M||Media buy||$7.57M|
|Travel & Lodging||$1.13M||List rental (incl. postage/printing)||$15.5M||Travel & lodging||$3.38M|
|Online or digital consulting||$0.59M||Digital media
(incl. donor modeling/survey research)
|$4.71M||Campaign merchandise (incl. fulfillment)||$2.75M|
|Media buy||$0.51M||Strategy consulting (incl. political)||$2.7M||Field consulting||$1.24M|
|Fundraising consulting||$0.43M||Travel & Lodging||$2.63M||Strategy consulting (incl. political)||$1M|
|Town hall production||$0.31M||Payroll||$2.35M||Payroll||$0.88M|
|Strategy consulting (incl. political)||$0.30M||Fundraising phone calls||$2.33M||Event production||$0.88M|
|Finance consulting||$0.17M||Database management service||$1.54M||Event site rental||$0.75M|
|Polling consulting||$0.16M||Rent & utilities||$1.18M||Printing/graphic design||$0.75M|
|Printing/graphic design||$0.11M||Campaign merchandise (incl. fulfillment)||$1.03M||Ballot access consulting||$0.68M|
Out of all the campaigns, Cruz’s has seemingly spent the most on identifying and tracking potential supporters. This includes expenses such as email or mailing list rental, printing and postage, donor modeling, survey research, fundraising calling and database management. Email or mailing list rental is the practice of renting or purchasing addresses to use for marketing purposes. Donor modeling is the process of using statistics to evaluate how likely it is and how much someone will donate. Database management is likely used for a variety of purposes, but a major purpose would be to track voters, supporters and donors of the campaign. In total, Cruz has spent over $24 million on these activities, which is roughly 40% of his total expenditures.
The Republican campaigns have also spent a significant amount of money on different types of consulting. Kasich's campaign has spent an estimated $2 million on consulting, which is over 20% of its total expenditures. This may be due in part to the practice of hiring campaign roles as a consultant or contractor rather than an employee of the campaign itself. Trump’s campaign, for example, did not list a Communications Director on its payroll.
|Media buy||$22M||Media buy||$24.53M|
|Payroll||$19.31M||Online or digital consulting||$16.36M|
|Direct marketing and mail||$7.42M||Payroll||$12.18M|
|Online advertising||$5.84M||Campaign paraphernalia||$6.86M|
|Travel & lodging||$3.64M||Printing/graphic design||$4.37M|
|Polling||$3.01M||Travel & lodging||$2.72M|
|Rent & utilities||$2.77M||Sound, stage & lighting||$1.55M|
|Insurance||$2.6M||Voter files & modeling||$1.43M|
|Event production||$1.31M||Event site rental||$1.22M|
|Campaign merchandise (incl. fulfillment)||$1.29M||Rent & utilities||$1.15M|
Both Democrat campaigns have spent a significant amount of money on campaign merchandise and events. Sanders’ campaign has spent $1.55 million on sound, stage and lighting for his events. Out of all the campaigns, Sanders’ has also spent the most on voter files and modeling at $1.43 million. Voter files can be purchased to send targeted campaign advertisements or mail. Voter modeling is similar to donor modeling: it’s the process of using statistics to evaluate how likely it is someone will vote and who they will vote for.
Clinton’s campaign has spent the most on advertising and media overall: $22 million for media buy, $7.42 million for direct marketing and mail and $5.84 million for online advertising for a total of $35 million. For media buy alone, Sanders’ campaign has spent the most of any other campaign at $24.53 million.
One the top expenditures across all campaigns was media buy. Typically, the campaigns purchase media and advertising services from a media/advertising firm, who will place and monitor any advertisements. Media can include digital advertisements, TV commercials or direct mail. The graph below shows when campaigns purchased media, not necessarily when the media was placed or run. Based on the data reported to the FEC, Kasich has spent the least on media thus far, and Sanders has spent the most.
There are a few noticeable spikes in the purchasing timelines: one for Cruz’s campaign on Feb. 23 and one for Sanders’ campaign on Jan. 13. Cruz’s media purchase was one week before Super Tuesday (Mar. 1), on which 11 states held Republican primaries or caucuses. Sanders’ media buy on Jan. 13 was approximately two weeks before the first Democratic caucus on Feb. 1. It’s possible he was purchasing media in preparation for the beginning of the primaries and caucuses.
The Trump and Kasich campaigns have seemingly spent the least on media. Kasich’s campaign has reported only $500,000 in media buy since January. Trump’s campaign has spent significantly more than Kasich’s at $7 million, but this is half of what Cruz’s campaign has spent and a third of Clinton’s and Sanders’ campaigns. Trump's campaign has purchased most its media in January right before the first Republican caucus on Feb. 1 in Iowa. The campaign purchased $2 million on both Jan. 2 and Jan. 20 and another $1.2 million on both Jan. 13 and Jan. 28.
Major political campaigns are required to report operating expenditures, including salary and payroll, to the FEC. There are a few important considerations with this campaign data. First, some employees for a campaign may be paid through a consulting or contracting firm, so the person would not appear on the campaign’s payroll. Second, the Democrat campaigns typically employ a large number of field organizers, which are among the lowest paid positions, as part of the campaign itself. Republican campaigns, on the other hand, typically use their super PACs or other organizations for a majority of field organizing, so field organizers may not appear on the campaign’s payroll. For instance, the Clinton campaign has over 600 employees listed on its payroll but Trump has less than 75. Third, the salaries we list above are approximated based on the bi-weekly paychecks in the FEC data.