Many parts of the economy are strapped for cash this summer, but President Obama's re-election effort is not one of them. It pulled in $86 million in the second quarter, his campaign committee announced Wednesday. That's a massive amount of cash compared with what Republican candidates have been able to raise in their primary races.
More than $47 million, or 55 percent of the total, went to the president's re-election committee, Obama For America, the campaign said. Most of that money came from small donors. More than $38 million went to the Democratic National Committee, mostly from the big donors that Obama had been wooing at fancy events this spring.
The Obama operation prefers to emphasize the grass-roots side of things. When campaign manager Jim Messina disclosed the totals in a video emailed to supporters early Wednesday morning, he said that "552,462 people made a donation to this campaign in the first three months, more grass-roots support at this point in the process than any campaign in political history."
He also discussed volunteer organizing and other efforts financed by those donors. "The most concrete example are field offices," Messina said. "We have already 60 up around the country, with many more on the way."
That sunny presentation took on a sharper edge in a conference call with reporters. On the call, Messina and campaign press secretary Ben LaBolt were more combative. Messina referred to the $86 million total and said, "This should end any chatter about our grass-roots base. Our people are back and energized. And there's a new generation of supporters who've joined our organization."
And LaBolt, noting that the Obama re-election effort doesn't take money from political action committees or registered lobbyists in Washington, added this about the Republican presidential field: "Given the lack of grass-roots enthusiasm surrounding some of the Republican candidates, it'll be interesting to see to what extent they are relying on special interests and Washington lobbyists to fund their campaigns."
None of the campaigns — not President Obama's, not any of the Republicans' — has disclosed its donors yet. Official reports have to be filed by midnight Friday.
The president's campaign released a chart showing it has more than twice as many donors now as it did at this point in Obama's first campaign.
But the big-donor side of the Obama operation is equally innovative. Obama for America and the DNC have an extraordinarily tight relationship, which includes fundraising.
"Setting up a joint fundraising operation this early on is a real break from the past," says political scientist Anthony Corrado of Colby College.
Corrado says it's significant for three reasons. First, the president can take much larger contributions at the party committee than in his campaign committee, a difference of $30,500 versus $5,000 per donor. Second, donors who give the maximum to the DNC in 2011 can max out again in 2012, hiking their total to $61,000. And third, Corrado says, "the party can finance much of the voter identification, voter registration, voter turnout activity," which otherwise would cost tens of millions of dollars.
Republican veterans of the fundraising wars sounded resigned today but not daunted.
"Our experience tells us that President Obama is the grand champion of political fundraising," says campaign finance lawyer Jan Baran. "And I think Republicans accept the fact that whoever's the nominee is likely to have less money than President Obama."
A clear picture may not come until late winter, when the GOP primaries produce a nominee.
And, even then, Obama and his Republican challenger will have to contend with the proliferation of superPACs and other outside money groups — such as the conservative American Crossroads and the liberal Priorities USA — all of them intent on spending millions of dollars to influence the presidential campaign.