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Campaign finance roundup: Competition for Hillary; Newt's got a hangover; donors like Dem challengers

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Photo of smiling African American man in surgical scrubs
Conservative super doc Ben Carson is the surprise winner of the latest campaign fundraising sweepstakes. (Photo credit: V. Aceveda, U.S. Air Force, via Wikimedia Commons)

While the much buzzed-about Ready for Hillary draft committee has vaulted into the top ranks of super PACs when it comes to fundraising, an analysis by Sunlight's Real-Time FEC tracker of just-filed year-end campaign reports shows, the tool also suggests that Democratic 2016 presidential favorite Hillary Rodham Clinton and her fans had better look over their right shoulders.

Not far behind Ready for Hillary's $2.7 million take, according to Sunlight's list: the unheralded Draft Ben Carson for President Committee. The group collected more than $1 million to get the outspoken conservative super-doc into the race. The committee has been spending most of its money on list rentals and fundraising expenses — it owes nearly $700,000 in debts and obligations and ended the quarter with $270,798 in cash on hand.

These were among the more interesting returns from one of the FEC's busiest days, as every active political committee had to file year-end reports Friday. Thanks to the Sunlight Foundation's Real-Time FEC tracker, we can see who's got what one former president once dubbed "the Big Mo" heading into this midterm election year.

Sadly, we won't have updated numbers on Senate candidates for awhile because members of the antique-loving upper chamber of the national legislature have not quite gotten around to mastering the art of electronic filing. The Sunlight Foundation has an opinion about that. But the tracker turned up some interesting nuggets about candidates -- and ex-candidates -- for other high offices:

  • Boehner rules: For all the political problems he had last year with his unruly caucus, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, remains a king of the Hill when it comes to fundraising. Real-Time FEC shows that Boehner raised more than three times as much as his next closest House colleague, Paul Ryan, R-Wis, a whopping $11 million.
  • Gabby beats the NRA (barely): The gun issue remains a money magnet in American politics, but in 2013, the fundraising forces fought to a draw: Americans for Responsible Solutions, the pro-gun control group founded by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords after the Arizona Democrat's recovery from a near-fatal assassination attempt, leaped into the top ranks of super PAC fundraisers, with a haul of $12.8 million. Just behind, the National Rifle Association's Victory Fund, with $11.7 million.
  • Money hearts GOP ins: Donors favor Republican incumbents: Of the top 10 House fundraisers in 2013, only one is a Democrat: Rep. Patrick Murphy, a Florida first-termer who in 2012 knocked off Tea Party favorite and fundraising behemoth Allen West in one of that year's closest races.
  • Money hearts Democratic up-and-comers: But when it comes to challengers, the smart money tilts slightly toward Democrats: Eliminating Katherine Clark and Elizabeth Colbert Busch, who ran in special elections in 2013, the top 10 non-incumbent fundraisers include six Democrats, including Silicon Valley fave Rohit Khanna and former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff and Gwen Graham, daughter of former Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla.
  • Waxman's surprise haul: Veteran Rep. Henry Waxman, who announced his retirement this week, must have just made up his mind: His latest FEC filing shows he was continuing to ramp up his fundraising operation: The quarter before he made his announcement was his most successful of 2013.
  • To the losers go the debt: It's one thing to carry a big debt when you're raising big money, like the DNC or Obama for America. It's another when you have no political chits to trade. Several losing candidates reported ending the year deeply in the red. Among them: former presidential candidate turned CNN commentator Newt Gingrich ($4.6 million), David Dewhurst, the Republican establishment favorite who lost the Texas Senate primary to now-Sen. Ted Cruz ($3 million), and Maryland businessman Rob Sobhani, who has a whopping $7 million in debt left over after his quixotic campaign to beat Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., as an independent.
  • Them's that got it don't need it: Among the House committees with the most cash on hand are two connected with former Massachusetts lawmakers who haven't run in years: The biggest kitty belongs to the Marty Meehan for Congress Committee, even though Democrat Meehan left Congress seven years ago for the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, where he's chancellor. Another Democrat, Joseph Kennedy II, retired from Congress in 1999 but his campaign committee still has $2.5 million. Meanwhile, his son, first-term Rep. Joseph Kennedy III, ended the year with $912,226.

(Contributing: Peter Olsen-Phillips)