The campaign trail is, by all accounts, a greasy and exhausting slog. Also a slog? Sifting through hundreds of pages of campaign finance reports.
As spreadsheets go, though, these ones, which candidates for federal office must file every quarter, are pretty fascinating—especially when they belong to people running for president. Tucked among the acres of credit card fees, various euphemisms for cold-calling, and millions of dollars spent on postage (seriously!), were hidden nuggets of information. It was as though the candidates, so bombastic at rallies and behind podiums, had been using this medium to send more subtle messages—about their favorite Port-a-Potty brand, for example, or their abiding love for someplace called “Goode’s Armadillo Palace.”
After spending about 12 hours scrolling through all the available recent data* for each current major party candidate, Atlas Obscura had some questions. Fifty-seven questions, in fact. In alphabetical order, we present our most pressing queries.
If you have the inclination to take a spin through the documents, which are accessible via this handy online database–look for “Operating Expenditures,” under “Disbursements”—please let us know what bits of fascinating errata you find!
*Note: Senator Sanders’s expenditures were only available through September 2015; everyone else’s data ran through the end of 2015.
GOVERNOR JEB BUSH
1. Does the Bush Campaign feel nervous about sourcing many of their charter flights via Moby Dick Airways LTD?
2. Why does Jeb refer to a number of his employees only by their first names?
3. What did the Bush Campaign tack up on the $22 corkboard they got from Walmart?
4. Did a Bush Campaign member get stuck in Miami in August and have to buy $218 worth of gas from a man named Kyle Radon, as this line item makes it appear?
5. What was on the menu when the Bush Campaign ate at the Ronald Reagan Foundation?
6. What Killer Track did the Bush Campaign pay $11,950 to license from Killer Tracks Music?
7. Who among the Bush Campaign bothered to expense a $1 pack of Office Depot pens?
8. Did the Bush Campaign’s SuperPAC have to front his rent deposit for him?
9. Does the Bush Campaign get a lot out of their subscription to the Wall Street Journal?
10. Why is the Bush Campaign the only campaign to patronize Lyft as well as Uber?
(BONUS) Unusual Major Expenditure Type: clocks ($434)
DR. BEN CARSON
Questions for the Carson Campaign:
11. Why buy balloons at all if you, like the Carson Campaign, are only going to buy $50 worth?
12. Especially if you are also buying $31,790 worth of wristbands?
13. Does “Coolhead, Inc.” provide good digital consulting services to the Carson campaign?
14. What $7,103 service did the Carson Campaign acquire over the course of several visits to “Apple iTunes”?
15. Did the Carson Campaign prefer the Bagels or the Baguettes at Bagels & Baguettes this past August?
16. Did the Carson Campaign prefer the Dog or the Duck at Dog & Duck this past September?
17. Can one–as the Carson Campaign’s activity suggests–really buy office supplies at Sports Authority?
(BONUS) Unusual Major Expenditure Type: stock photos and photoshoots ($41,857)
SECRETARY HILLARY CLINTON
Questions for the Clinton Campaign:
19. Did the Clinton Campaign really hire a petting zoo in October?
20. And also someone named “Silly Ricky” in November?
21. Who among the Clinton Campaign got to crack open the $3,221 worth of glow sticks purchased in October?
22. Is Clinton the only person in the world with an actual LinkedIn subscription?
23. Are Clinton employees nervous to take something called the Vamoose Bus?
24. Does the Clinton Campaign’s John Podesta charge a flat $500 every time he travels?
25. Does the Clinton Campaign think they are cooler than everyone else because they have a Slack account?
26. Which of the six different portable toilet companies used by the Clinton Campaign was the best?
27. Who among the Clinton Campaign had to write the $69,878 check to Kitty Purry, Inc?
(BONUS) Unusual Major Expenditure Type: golf carts ($4,443)
SENATOR TED CRUZ
Questions for the Cruz Campaign:
28. Where does the Cruz campaign store the $29,093 worth of flags they bought in Utah?
29. Which poor Cruz Campaign member had three different meals or snacks on an Amtrak train on August 3rd, 2015?
30. Was it the same Cruz Campaign staffer who spent $63 on food at the Kum & Go #863 in Sapulpa, Oklahoma exactly one month later?
31. What movie did Ted Cruz send his donors to in November, courtesy of tickets from Fandango.com?
33. How did the Cruz Campaign store their documents, photos, etc. before signing up for a $10/month Dropbox subscription in October 2015?
34. Did anyone see the Cruz Campaign’s $5000 November Snapchat ad?
35. Did the Cruz Campaign win any prizes at Funspot in New Hampshire on November 6th?
(BONUS) Unusual Major Expenditure Type: “Floral Services” ($4,972 across 11 different states)
GOVERNOR JOHN KASICH
Questions for the Kasich Campaign:
37. Is the Kasich Campaign the only one to have taken a ferry en masse (Mackinaw City, Michigan, September 2015)?
38. How did the Kasich Campaign manage to spend $128 on food at Staples?
39. Who among the Kasich Campaign required $93 Best Buy headphones?
40. How did the Kasich Campaign end up paying $1000 for a Labor Day Parade?
41. Which classy member of the Kasich Campaign decided to hire the Columbus Symphony for an event?
42. Which funky member of the Kasich Campaign settled on “Funky’s Catering” for an unspecified meal?
(BONUS) Unusual Major Expenditure Type: business cards ($672)
SENATOR MARCO RUBIO
Questions for the Rubio Campaign:
43. If the Rubio Campaign loves Chick-Fil-A so much, why don’t they marry it?
44. Did the Rubio Campaign enjoy their June 2015 stay at the Hard Rock Hotel?
45. What is the Rubio Campaign keeping in their $2,923 worth of storage units?
46. Which concert did the Rubio Campaign pay $189 to attend at the Iowa State Fair?
47. Whither goest thou, Rubio Campaign, in thy 793 Ubers in the night?
48. Is there actual food at the Long Beach Petroleum Club, or did the Rubio campaign just “fuel up”?
(BONUS) Unusual Major Expenditure Type: in-flight internet ($2,589)
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS
Questions for the Sanders Campaign:
49. Who among the Sanders Campaign bought a $55 cell phone from Amazon.com last May, and do they call it a Berner Phone?
50. Who among the Sanders Campaign decided to spend $1473 at someplace called “Big D Party Rentals” in Texas?
51. What kind of ice cream did Ben and Jerry each donate $411 worth of to the Sanders Campaign in May?
52. What was the heaviest thing Local Muscle Movers of Portland, ME moved on behalf of the Sanders Campaign in September?
53. Do members of the Sanders Campaign make “Mail…Kymp?” jokes when paying their substantial ($2500) MailChimp bills?
54. What happened in August 2015 to shift the Sanders Campaign’s catering ethos from “The Common Man” in Claremont, NH to “Royal House: New Orleans Oyster Bar”?
(BONUS) Unusual Major Expenditure Type: mobile homes ($7,300)
MR. DONALD TRUMP
Questions for the Trump Campaign:
56. What did Trump get framed for $370 in October?
57. Why aren’t there more Trump expenditures worth poking fun at?
(BONUS) Unusual Major Expenditure Type: hats ($687,700)