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Political Money Trail: From Big Donors' Wallets To Field Operations


Hillary Clinton's campaign organization raised $143 million in August. This is about $50 million more than Donald Trump. This is according to newly filed reports. But an important point here, not all of this money goes just to promote the candidate. This morning, NPR's Peter Overby takes us along the money trail from the big donors' wallets to the field operations their money helps to finance.

PETER OVERBY, BYLINE: The Hillary Victory Fund is a joint fundraising committee. That means it collects big checks then parcels out the money to the Clinton campaign and various party committees. It started its big-time fundraising last winter.


KATY PERRY: (Singing) I got the eye of the tiger...

OVERBY: Katy Perry and Sting starred at events in New York City. Six-figure payments arrived from such top-tier Democratic funders as Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton and financier George Soros. Some of the money went places like this...

HANNAH ARRIGHI: Hey, Marcia (laughter).

MARCIA: I'm sorry. I got lost.

ARRIGHI: Oh, no worries.

OVERBY: ...An office of the Democrats combined campaign in Loudoun County, Va., this year's hot corner in the state's presidential and congressional elections. All year, the Democratic Party of Virginia has been getting hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Hillary Victory Fund and other national sources.

ARRIGHI: Thank you so, so much for coming. It means a lot that you're here.

OVERBY: Hannah Arrighi is one of the 180 organizers the Virginia Democrats were able to hire this summer. She's sending out 10 volunteers to look for unregistered voters.

ARRIGHI: Voter registration is absolutely essential to our campaign. We need to make sure that we elect Democrats up and down the ticket, from Hillary Clinton to LuAnn Bennett.

OVERBY: LuAnn Bennett is challenging Republican Congresswoman Barbara Comstock in Loudon's 10th District.

STEPHEN FARNSWORTH: The 10th District is a place where money has double value.

OVERBY: Stephen Farnsworth is a political scientist at Virginia's University of Mary Washington.

FARNSWORTH: You're working for a congressional district, Democratic or Republican, and you're working a presidential candidate in the swingiest area of one of the swingiest states in the country.

OVERBY: It reflects a new sophistication in financial strategy. The 2012 campaign was defined by heavy TV spending from super PACs and other outside groups. This time, the Hillary Victory Fund is taking in much more cash than Trump's joint fundraising committees. Some of the money has been moving between state and national parties, ready to deploy. And there's more of this money to deploy thanks to a 2014 Supreme Court case called McCutcheon. It erased a legal cap on how much one donor could give overall per election cycle.

DIANA DWYRE: So if you have a lot of different parties in a joint fundraising committee, it allows for, potentially, more fundraising from individual fat cats.

OVERBY: That's Diana Dwyre, a political scientist at California State University - Chico. For Hillary Victory Fund donors, the math works out to $10,000 per state party committee times the 40 state committees in the victory fund. And in Virginia, you're looking beyond Election Day. Susan Swecker is the state party chairwoman.

SUSAN SWECKER: While we're building towards November 8, this also allows us to hit the ground running on November 9 for the 2017 gubernatorial and statewide elections.

OVERBY: Because next year, Virginia will likely be up for grabs yet again. Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.