This story and headline has been updated to reflect Rand Paul’s suspension of his campaign.
For all the popularity of Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz in the 2016 presidential primary races, the biggest recipient of individual campaign money from Kentuckians last year was a home-state favorite — Rand Paul.
According to new figures posted Monday on the Federal Election Commission’s website, Kentucky residents have donated a total of $1.39 million to candidates for president through Dec. 31.
Paul, Kentucky’s junior U.S. senator from Bowling Green, received $350,304. Behind him in the Republican Party race for Kentucky donors were Ben Carson ($163,633), Ted Cruz ($114,690) and Marco Rubio ($80,805).
On the Democratic side, Kentuckians made $294,721 in direct contributions to Hillary Clinton, and $82,775 to Bernie Sanders. Individuals are limited by law to donating no more than $2,700 per federal election.
Paul suspended his campaign Wednesday morning, saying he’ll focus on his U.S. Senate re-election campaign.
“Although, today I will suspend my campaign for President, the fight is far from over,” Paul said in released statement.
Paul had managed to remain the top recipient among Kentucky donors in spite of weak showings in national polls. His fifth-place finish in the Iowa caucus Monday boosted his standing, but he still received less than 5 percent of the vote there.
Longtime Kentucky politics reporter Al Cross, director of The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky, said it came as no surprise that Paul’s popularity in Kentucky translated into fundraising success.
Earlier this week, Cross suggested Paul would no longer be a candidate come Kentucky’s own Republican caucus on March 5. “You don’t get 5 percent in Iowa and likely about the same in New Hampshire and stay in the race,” Cross said.
According to the FEC’s Campaign Guide, a withdrawn candidate’s unspent campaign balance can be spent on campaign operating expenses, campaign loan repayments, refunds to contributors, donations to charity and transfers of up to $2,000 to the campaigns of other federal office candidates.
The money cannot go toward personal expenses, although there are exceptions. And candidates seeking more than one federal office can transfer money from the discontinued campaign to the ongoing campaign as long as it does not include contributions that would put donors over their individual per-election contribution limits.
As of Dec. 31, the Rand Paul for President committee had a cash balance of $1.27 million and debts/loans owed of $248,367.
Other takeaways from the FEC data:
* Reflecting the state’s rightward shift — and the vigor of the GOP race — about 65 percent of the $430.9 million donated by Kentuckians went to Republicans, 35 percent to Democrats. Nationally, the breakdown was 55 to 45 percent in favor of the GOP.
* Donald Trump, the leading Republican candidate in national polls and second-place finisher in Iowa, raised only $11,840 in Kentucky as of Dec. 31, putting him in ninth place among Republicans and below now-former candidate Mike Huckabee.
* Even larger sums of money are donated into the presidential race through Super Political Action Committees. Much of that money is difficult to trace to individual candidates because many Super PACs are issues-based or haven’t thrown their weight behind a single candidate.
In Kentucky, though, a Super PAC supporting GOP contender Ben Carson, called The 2016 Committee, has raised $150,329 from Kentuckians. Cintas Corp. Chairman Robert Kohlhepp, a Covington resident, gave $44,000 to New Day for America, a Super PAC backing John Kasich.
* Among the leading donors to Rand Paul are the founders of Sun Tan City, the Louisville-based tanning parlor chain. Richard and David Kueber gave a combined $8,100 to Paul along with Suzanne Kueber.
* Among those who gave personal maximum amounts to Clinton last year were Louisville businessmen David Jones Jr., Steve Wilson and Bruce Lunsford.
* Among Carson’s biggest givers was B. Wayne Hughes, the founder of PublicStorage and owner of Spendthrift Farm near Lexington. Ted Cruz’s biggest donors were four executives of Kentucky Rivers Wood Products in Sacramento, Ky.
Kohlhepp and Hughes are two of Kentucky’s biggest contributors to political candidates and parties. The two made the state’s list of top 10 “power players” in 2014, according to data compiled by the Investigative News Network.
Nationally, more than $400 million was given to all presidential campaigns combined through Dec. 31. Going forward, candidates who receive more than $100,000 per month in contributions will have to file monthly reports to the FEC. The next such report is due Feb. 20.
Reporter James McNair can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and (502) 814.6543.
Disclosure: David Jones Jr. is an officer of the C. E. & S. Foundation, a private, nonprofit family foundation that is a donor to KyCIR.
This story was reported by WFPL’s Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.
This story has been updated.