As Mitt Romney decisively won the Illinois Republican presidential primary Tuesday night, financial reports filed at the Federal Election Commission showed that Romney and a superPAC supporting him yet again spent more than all of his GOP opponents combined.
The reports cover the month of February, which started with Romney's win in Nevada and ended with contests in Michigan and Arizona, which the former Massachusetts governor also won.
In between, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum took three smaller states.
But John Green, a political scientist at the University of Akron, points out that none of these victories gave a fundraising bounce to anyone.
"We haven't seen the kind of momentum in fundraising that we've seen in some past elections, where a candidate wins a primary decisively or unexpectedly, and then there's a sudden bonanza of funds that flows in," he says.
A Tale Of Two Kinds Of Campaigns
Romney's fundraising shot up from less than $6.5 million in January to $11.6 million in February.
As a percentage increase, Santorum's take came even closer to doubling — from January's $4.5 million to February's $8.9 million.
February was not kind to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. He fared badly in the balloting, and his monthly fundraising fell by nearly half — to just $2.6 million.
Green says it's a tale of two different kinds of campaigns: Romney has a traditional campaign, based on big donors. Santorum and Gingrich do not.
But Green says that's not the fatal flaw that it used to be. "It's who has enough money. And at least Sen. Santorum, up to this point, has been able to raise enough money, even though he's running behind Gov. Romney, to sort of keep the campaign going," he says.
And here's an even sharper twist to the story: When it came to small donors — those who gave $200 or less — the powerful Romney fundraising machine collected less than Santorum, or even Gingrich.
Sheila Krumholz, director of the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks political money, says "it's amazing that the raw dollars are lower."
"Small, kind of that grassroots fundraising has always been a weakness for the Romney campaign," she says.
The campaign claims confidence in its base of donors who give the maximum $2,500 contributions.
Krumholz has her doubts. "There will come a time when it's harder and harder to find those deep pockets," she says. "I think in this day and age, a successful campaign has to figure out the calculus for online small donations."
Small Donors Vs. SuperPACs
And one campaign that's focused like a laser on Internet giving is President Obama's.
His re-election operation raised $45 million in February — a big increase from January, due to a stepped-up fundraising schedule by the president.
Those high-dollar events drove down the percentage of money from small donors. But still, so far in this election cycle, the Obama campaign has raised nearly as much from small donors as the Romney campaign has raised, period.
But this is a year when thousands of small donors can be balanced out by superPACs that raise unlimited contributions.
"Such a tiny pool, about 100 donors, give 80 percent of the contributions to all superPACs," Krumholz says.
So the pro-Romney superPAC finished February with $10.5 million in the bank, even though it's been spending — mostly on attack ads — at twice the rate of its fundraising.
Bob Perry of Texas — a generous donor to conservative causes — gave $3 million.
But Green, the political scientist, says the superPACs opposing Romney actually have more impact.
"The superPACs have, up to this point, been even more important for Romney's rivals, for Santorum and Gingrich in particular, because those superPACs have been able to keep those campaigns operating in key states," Green says.
The filing by Winning Our Future, the superPAC backing Newt Gingrich, shows that it's gotten 85 percent of its money overall from Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson and his family.
The Red, White & Blue Fund, supporting Santorum, picked up a million dollars from Annette Simmons. Her husband, Texas investor Harold Simmons, has given to the superPACs supporting both Romney and Gingrich.
And the pro-Obama superPAC, called Priorities USA Action, showed signs of life: It raised just over $2 million. About half of that came from one donor — comedian Bill Maher.