Obama bad at fundraising? Numbers tell a different story


You heard it here first (and here more recently): President Barack Obama is all but beating the pants off of Mitt Romney when it comes to fundraising. There’s no contest. Romney’s not even close. In fact, despite out raising Obama by $26 million in July, Romney fell even further off the pace he’d need to maintain to match Obama’s money machine–he’s about $132 million behind with three full months of fundraising to go.

A number of stories have suggested the opposite, that Romney is outpacing Obama, with one report–from Jane Mayer in the New Yorker–suggesting that Obama is being out raised because he isn’t very good at fundraising. This would be the same Barack Obama who raised more money than any presidential candidate ever before in 2008, who’s appeared at more than 200 fundraisers since he launched his 2012 campaign in April 2011 (according a tally kept by CBS News’ Mark Knoller), who’s done everything from offer small donors a chance to dine with him for a $3 contribution to guaranteed dinner access for couples with a cool $71,600 to burn.

This is a bit like saying that the Beatles weren’t very good at songwriting, the Yankees aren’t very good in the postseason or that Gilligan’s Island didn’t have much success in syndication.

It’s true that in the last few months, Romney, the Republican National Committee and Romney’s joint fundraising committee have reported better totals than Obama, his joint fundraising committee and the Democratic National Committee. It’s also true that in 2004, after he clinched the nomination in early March, Sen. John Kerry and the DNC raised, on average, some $22 million more a month than George W. Bush and the RNC did. But like Obama in 2011, Bush spent much of 2003 raising money, building what proved to be an insurmountable cash advantage. Obama still has that same huge cash advantage.

Writing in the Washington Times, Luke Rosiak points to some of what that money is buying:

The Obama campaign had a payroll of $3 million in July, including 858 staffers in 46 states. In May, it had 700 staffers across 44 states and spent $2.6 million. The Romney team, by comparison, spent $1.7 million on payroll for 326 staffers, many of whom work part time and all of whom have Massachusetts addresses.

Just to reiterate, Obama has 858 staffers preparing for the fall campaign, doing, among many other things, voter outreach, strategic messaging, coordinating volunteer canvassers looking for likely Obama voters and all the other things campaign staffers do. Romney is competing with 326 staffers.

More from Rosiak:

The Obama campaign spent $40 million on television ads, and recently bought 600 ads in 20 of the nation’s top 50 markets, chiefly in Ohio, Colorado, Florida, Virginia and Nevada, broadcasting records show. The Romney campaign, for its part, spent $21 million, and has bought 250 ads in 17 of those markets, focusing on Ohio, Florida and Virginia but also the District.

The top 50 markets are of course just a subset of the country; the Washington Post’s Mad Money ad tracker shows that the Obama campaign has spent more than $85 million on ads, while Romney’s campaign has spent $51 million–some of which was directed at his opponents in the Republican primaries.

That leaves one area where Romney and Republicans have an apparent advantage: super PAC fundraising. Republican oriented groups are out raising and outspending their Democratic counterparts. But again, a comparison to 2004 is instructive. That year, Democratic 527s (the pre-Citizens United version of the super PAC) raised more than twice as much as their Republican counterparts–$395 million to $167 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Yet despite the huge cash advantage, Bush defeated Kerry and Republicans held the House and Senate. It remains to be seen whether super PACs will be more effective in 2012 than the 527s were in 2004–super PACs have a freer hand after the Citizens United decision than the old 527s had–but their ability to sway a national campaign is by no means certain.

Just ask President Kerry.