For months, U.S. political pundits have declared 2016 the presidential election in which candidates will use outside spending groups, known as Super PACs, to reinvent the modern campaign playbook.
Now, in thousands of pages of campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission Wednesday by Republican Jeb Bush and other candidates, a first glimpse is emerging of just how much Super PACs are beginning to reshape how candidates run and pay for their campaigns.
Jeb and George Bush through the years
Lean Bush campaign operation signals new U.S. playbook
** FILE ** President George W. Bush, center, walks off the 18th hole with his brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, right, and father, former President George Bush, left, at the Cape Arundel Golf Club in Kennebunkport, Maine, in this July 7, 2001 file picture. Could there be a third President Bush? The current chief said Wednesday May 10, 2006 that younger brother Jeb would make a great one, too, and has asked him about making a run. The first President Bush likes the idea as well. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
President Bush, center, with former President George H.W. Bush, left, and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, walk together after participating in the christening ceremony of the aircraft carrier George H.W. Bush in Newport News, Va., Saturday, Oct. 7, 2006. (AP Photo/Lawrence Jackson)
Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, left, listens as former President George H. W. Bush offers condolences to the Ford family during a news conference in remembrance of former President Gerald R. Ford at the Gasparilla Inn in Boca Grande, Fla., Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2006. (AP Photo/Armando Solares)
President Bush waves to the crowd with his wife, Laura, and brother Jeb Bush on Monday, Nov. 6, 2006, in Pensacola, Fla., where Bush was drumming up support for local Republican candidates. (AP Photo/Mari Darr~Welch)
President Bush, left, stands on stage with his brother Gov. Jeb Bush, right, at a campaign rally at Pensacola Civic Center, Monday, Nov. 6, 2006. in Pensacola, Fla. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President Bush, left, spends a moment with his brother and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, prior to the President's speech on Social Security at the Pensacola Junior College, Friday, March 18, 2005, in Pensacola, Fla. (AP Photo/Phil Coale)
President George Bush chats with brother Gov. Jeb Bush as they acknowledge cheering supporters at a fundraiser for the Republican Party of Florida at the Contemporary Resort at Disney World in Orlando, Florida, Friday, February 17, 2006. (Photo by Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/MCT via Getty Images)
Texas Gov. George W. Bush, right, gestures as his brother Florida's governor-elect Jeb Bush looks on during a joint news conference in New Orleans Wednesday, Nov. 18, 1998. The Bush brothers are attending the Republican Governors Association meeting which runs through Friday. A flood of media requests to interview the Texas governor and the Florida governor-elect prompted the sons of former President Bush to schedule a news conference Wednesday. (AP Photo/Bill Haber)
Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, right, hugs his brother, President Bush, left, after introducing him at a campaign rally at Pensacola Civic Center in Pensacola, Fla., Monday, Nov. 6, 2006. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President Bush jokes with his brother Florida Gov. Jeb Bush on Monday, Nov. 6, 2006, in Pensacola, Fla., where Bush was drumming up support for local Republican candidates. (AP Photo/Mari Darr~Welch)
Former U.S. President George H. W. Bush, center, is joined by his sons, former U.S. President George W. Bush, left, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, as he speaks to reporters after his parachute jump with the Army Golden Knights parachute team to celebrate his 85th birthday, Friday, June 12, 2009, in Kennebunkport, Maine. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
President Bush greets his brother,former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, right, and Jeb's son, George P. Bush, left, as he arrives at Palm Beach International Airport in West Palm Beach, Fla., Tuesday, March 18, 2008. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
President George H. W. Bush, left, with his son former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, right, enters the West Wing of the White House to meet with President Barack Obama Saturday, Jan. 30, 2010, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
President George W. Bush, left, smiles while being introduced by his brother Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, right, at the Florida Victory 2004 rally on Sunday, Oct. 31, 2004 in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Scott Audette)
This photo taken Feb. 15, 2011, show former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush greeting his mother, former first lady Barbara Bush, at the White House's 2010 Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony in Washington, where her husband, former President George H.W. Bush is to receive the Medal. Jeb Bush has already heard his mother, Barbara, tell everyone âweâve had enough Bushesâ in the White House. In the lead-up to 2016 presidential campaign, the former Florida governor says heâs in his 60s and doesnât have to do everything his mom says. âI'm trying to avoid the family conversation,â he said. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)
In this Oct. 22, 2002, file photo former first lady Barbara Bush makes a point as she campaigns for her son, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, at Nova Southeastern University in Davie, Fla. Amid the celebration surrounding the opening of son George W. Bush's presidential library, Barbara Bush is brushing aside talk of her son Jeb running for president in 2016. When asked how she felt about it she told NBC's "Today" show, Thursday, April 25, 2013, "We've had enough Bushes." (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier, File)
Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, right, reaches out to grab his brother President George W. Bush before a speech Friday morning March 8, 2002 at America II Electronics in St. Petersburg, Fla. In the his remarks, Bush said he does not know whether Osama bin Laden is dead or alive but cautioned Americans against judging the success of the war on the fate of the terrorist mastermind. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Former first lady Barbara Bush laughs with her son, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, during a campaign stop in Ellenton, Fla., Monday, Oct. 30, 2000. The two were campaigning for another of her sons, Republican presidential candidate Texas Gov. George W. Bush. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Republican presidential candidate Texas Gov. George W. Bush jokes with his brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, left, during a bus ride to a rally at Florida International University in Miami, Fla., Sunday, Nov. 5, 2000. At left is New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. (AP Photo/Eric Draper)
Texas Republican Gov. George W. Bush, right, and Florida's Governor-elect, Jeb Bush, answer questions at a news conference in New Orleans Wednesday Nov. 18, 1998. A flood of media requests to interview the Texas governor and the Florida governor-elect prompted the sons of former President Bush to schedule a news conference. The governors are attending the Republican Governors Association. (AP Photo/Bill Haber)
Florida Gov.-elect Jeb Bush, left, laughs during a joint news conference in New Orleans Wednesday, Nov. 18, 1998, with his brother Texas Gov. George W. Bush. The Bush brothers are attending the Republican Governors Association meeting which runs through Friday. A flood of media requests to interview the Texas governor and the Florida governor-elect prompted the sons of former President Bush to schedule a joint news conference. (AP Photo/Bill Haber)
Former President George Bush, right, clenches his fist Sept.16, 1994 as he hugs son, Jeb during a Florida GOP fund-raiser in Tampa. After a hiatus, Bush has been hitting the campaign trail and lecture circuit with a vengence, raising millions for Republican candidates and getting digs in at President Bill Clinton along the way. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Former President George H. W. Bush, right, and son Jeb Bush chat with recruits at the Pinellas County jail's boot camp in St. Petersburg. FL., March 28, 1994. Jeb Bush, who is running for the Republican nomination for governor, was on a campaign swing with his father. (AP Photo/Peter Cosgrove)
Cheerleaders shout their encouragement as Florida Republican gubernatorial candidate Jeb Bush and former President George Bush applauds Barbara Bush, center, during her address to a rally on Oct. 10, 1994 at Church Street Station in Orlando, Florida. Jeb Bush is running for governor against incumbent Democrat Gov. Lawton Chiles. (AP Photo/Peter Cosgrove)
President George H. W. Bush talks with his son Jeb, during a round of golf at the Cape Arundel Golf Club in Kennebunkport ME., Aug. 27, 1990. The president is scheduled to meet with Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney Monday, at his Walker's Point home. (AP Photo/Doug Mills)
MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, UNITED STATES: US President George W. Bush (R) reaches out to shake hands with his brother Florida Governor Jeb Bush (L) shortly after Air Force One arrived at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, 09 May 2006. AFP Photo/Paul J. Richards (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
Washington, UNITED STATES: US President George W. Bush (L) looks on as his brother Florida Governor Jeb Bush speaks 19 April, 2006. Governor Bush was among several governors who met with the president after an Easter trip to Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait. AFP PHOTO/Jim WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
President George Bush (left) and brother Gov. Jeb Bush acknowledge cheering supporters at a fundraiser for the Republican Party of Florida at the Contemporary Resort at Disney World in Orlando, Florida, Friday, February 17, 2006. (Photo by Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/MCT via Getty Images)
ST. PETERSBURG, FL - OCTOBER 19: U.S. President George W. Bush (L) and his brother Florida Governor Jeb Bush (R) smile while greeting supporters during a campaign rally at Progress Energy Park October 19, 2004 in St. Petersburg, Florida. Recent polls indicate Bush is maintaining a slight lead over his Democratic challenger U.S. Sen. John Kerry (D-MA). (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
PARK CITY, UT - JANUARY 22: Jeb Bush is seen at Salt Lake City Airport on January 22, 2015 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by JOCE/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)
Discover More Like This
BACK TO SLIDE
So far in the 2016 race for the White House, the fundraising hauls of Republican candidates' affiliated Super PACs have smashed the totals brought in by individual candidate committees, and Bush leads the field in both parties with a combined financial war chest of more than $114 million.
Bush's new strategy, campaign finance experts say, is the starkest sign yet of the structural shift away from campaign committees, which can only accept small donations, and toward Super PACs, which have no limits.
The financial report for Bush's 2016 campaign committee shows a streamlined operation that has so far spent little compared with candidates of the past during similar periods.
Campaign finance experts say Bush's lean campaign committee, in which he spent dramatically less than traditional campaigns during comparable periods for staff, infrastructure and other necessities, is just the latest sign of how much he will need to rely on his Right to Rise Super PAC to fund many of the workaday tasks aimed at getting him elected.
Super PACs are a relatively new political phenomenon that have been roiling the campaign landscape since the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United ruling, which gave wealthy donors, corporations and labor unions the right to spend unlimited amounts of money on campaign ads and other electioneering efforts.
Unlike traditional campaigns, which are regulated and can only accept donations from individuals of up to $2,700, Super PACs can collect unlimited sums. Because of that, campaign finance reformers have lambasted the court's decision as one that has given too much political influence to the privileged elite.
Most major candidates in the race now have a Super PAC affiliated with their campaigns. While Super PACs are legally barred from coordinating directly with campaigns, they are often staffed with people who have worked for the candidates, and are intimate with the campaigns' inner workings.
Bush's favorite strategist, Mike Murphy, has migrated to working for Bush's affiliated Super PAC instead of Bush's actual campaign committee.
So far, Bush, who spent the first half of this year raising money for the Super PAC while he was technically not a declared candidate, is by far the dominant winner in the money race in an election that is predicted to cost all candidates combined more than $5 billion.
Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton, who announced her candidacy in April 12, reported that her campaign committee has raised $47.5 million. The Super PAC associated with her campaign has raised only $15.6 million.
Although Bush is the leading fundraiser, the latest opinion poll among self-identified Republican voters shows he had dropped behind Republican rival Donald Trump, the billionaire who has said he will finance his own campaign.
Filings show that in the latest reporting period, Trump had lent his campaign nearly $2 million.
The financial reports for Bush's campaign committee make clear how much the innovations are beginning to change his campaign infrastructure.
In traditional campaigns, the first financial filings usually show millions of dollars of spending on payroll, postage, and mailings — the bread-and-butter of campaigns. Bush's first campaign committee finance report, by contrast, shows virtually little of that in the weeks leading up to, and after, his announcement.
The reports also show that Bush's campaign committee is so far a low-budget operation compared with those of the past.
In the last presidential election, the campaign committees of President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney were in robust form at a comparable stage, having staffed up and spent freely, pouring nearly $17 million in the weeks leading up to and after their campaign announcements on mailings, online advertising and telemarketing.
Together, the two candidates spent more than $3.2 million on payroll for staff and consultants alone. Obama declared his candidacy on April,4, 2011; Romney announced June 2, 2011.
By contrast, Bush's campaign, though official for a shorter amount of time, still spent just a fraction of those amounts, a total of $3 million - with just $173,111 on payroll so far. He launched his official White House bid on June 15.
MOVES TOWARD SUPER PACS
While Bush is innovating something of a new order in campaign finance, the reports show that, so far, Democratic frontrunner Clinton is sticking more to the traditional school, leveraging her $47.5 million campaign finance haul in ways similar to campaigns of the past, including spending millions on printed flyers, postage and staff expenses.
Clinton also reimbursed dozens of individual supporters for the food, drinks and other costs of holding fundraisers in their homes. Of the $19 million she spent, her top three expenses were payroll, marketing and taxes.
To be sure, there is time for Bush's campaign committee to ramp up spending as the election progresses. But campaign finance experts say the sheer totals for his Super PAC indicate that this will be an election unlike any other.
In response to a request for comment, the Bush campaign said in an emailed statement: "Jeb Bush will run a robust and comprehensive operation that will include all elements of successful political campaign."
The Clinton campaign did not respond to requests for comment.