Politics > USA > Presidential / Congressional elections >
Campaign finance / funding
Big Money Rearranges Its Election Bets
JUNE 4, 2016
The New York Times
SundayReview | Editorial
By THE EDITORIAL BOARD
Like practiced horseplayers at a racetrack, wealthy campaign
donors are adjusting their bets as the primary season ends and the political
field narrows. This is particularly true of Republican megadonors who cannot
abide Donald Trump and are thus doubling down on keeping G.O.P. control of the
Senate as a firewall against a possible Democratic president, while investing
heavily in keeping statehouses in Republican hands.
One constant is the vast amount of money sluicing through the political system
in what is certain to be the most expensive election in the nation’s history.
Experts estimate that campaign spending, which has risen inexorably in recent
years, will easily surpass the $6.28 billion record set in the 2012 federal
elections and could conceivably reach $9 billion, much of it for political
Both parties are busy exploiting the power of barely regulated super PACs to
accept unlimited six- and seven-figure donations for candidates. At the same
time, campaigns are concealing the names of other rich donors in “dark-money”
operations palmed off as tax exempt “social welfare” agencies supposedly
dedicated to doing good, not to bare-knuckle politics.
Prominent among the Republican super-spenders shying away from Donald Trump are
the billionaire conservatives Charles and David Koch, whose political machine
has invested $42 million-plus to keep control of the Senate. Other Republican
contributors have also indicated a preference for spending on lesser races down
the line rather than on the presidential campaign.
Some superstar check writers like Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate, have no
problem with Mr. Trump’s erratic policy proposals, bluster, and past vows to
self-fund. Mr. Adelson is talking of a $100 million effort to boost Mr. Trump’s
performance in the finale against Hillary Clinton. Mr. Trump, having
flip-flopped on a primary promise to shun wealthy donors, now seems only too
happy to accept a pledge by Mr. Adelson and others to raise as much as $1
billion for his campaign.
For now, Hillary Clinton, the Democratic front-runner, leads the fund-raising
pack with a money machine that has sucked in more than $80 million in super PAC
support. Democrats are not shying away from the big-check power of super PACs,
creating a new $50 million operation started by major labor unions and the
billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer. At the same time, Mrs. Clinton is
campaigning on proposals to rein in the runaway money race. She says it
undermines American politics.
What voters think of all this as the price of a particularly raucous display of
democracy remains to be seen. But the power of money in politics has grown so
much since the 2010 Citizens United decision that its presence is felt ever
deeper down the ballot. Ominously, there has been a flood of special-interest
money into state judicial races that raises questions about whether judges’
decisions might be affected, according to a Brennan Center for Justice study.
The toughest race in Kansas this year is being waged by furious conservative
Republicans aiming to oust four members of the state Supreme Court because of
their decisions striking down the G.O.P. Legislature’s shortchanging of the
state constitution’s school-aid requirements.
Shrewd big-money campaigns financed by the Koch brothers and others have upended
the Democrats’ one-time dominance of state legislatures. There are now
Republican majorities in 70 percent of two-party statehouses. That success, in
turn, has created a farm system for the G.O.P.’s current control of Congress.
There, the twin powers of big money and statehouse gerrymandering have made
incumbents of both parties unbeatable 90 percent of the time, compounding the
gridlock voters complain about. For all the job security, big donors are
expected to drive this year’s congressional election spending well beyond the
$3.8 billion record set two years ago. Much of this money will surely be wasted,
further enriching the new breed of fat-cat campaign operatives, and further
alienating voters with toxic advertising. But some of it may tip key races.
As the money torrent rises, it’s no coincidence that for the first time in
history, most members of Congress are millionaires (268 of 534 House members),
according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Republican control of the
agenda has snuffed out Democratic proposals to control or at least disclose the
true extent of the wealth now driving elections. Theoretically, this election
should be a forum for dealing with this open invitation to political corruption.
Unfortunately, big money’s main effect on the campaign so far has been a
frenzied pace to raise and spend more of it.
Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook and Twitter
(@NYTopinion), and sign up for the Opinion Today newsletter.
A version of this editorial appears in print on June 5, 2016,
on page SR8 of the
New York edition with the headline:
Big Money Adjusts Its Election Bets.
The 2016 presidential campaign has barely begun, but it is
already clear this will be the super contest of the “super PACs” — the fast
evolving political money machines that are irresistible to candidates because
they can legally raise unlimited money from donors seeking favor and influence.
The idea of a super PAC created to support an individual candidate was little
more than an experiment four years ago when strategists for Mitt Romney tested
its potential after misguided court decisions shattered federal limits on
spending on elections. President Obama, after initially denouncing unlimited
contributions, used a super PAC in his re-election.
Money poured in, and this year all the major candidates, Republican and
Democratic, will be counting on supposedly “independent” super PACs. They will
be able to benefit from funds far greater than the amounts allowed under current
regulations, which limit contributions to a candidate’s formal campaign
organization to $2,700 per donor in the primary contests and $2,700 in the
Super PACs are supposedly independent of the candidate’s campaign, but that
distinction has just about vanished. In fact, strategists for the campaign of
Jeb Bush are reportedly considering turning over some of the campaign’s central
functions to their “independent” Right to Rise super PAC, making it the
super-lucrative tail that wags the dog.
The difference in fund-raising power between the two political entities runs
into hundreds of millions of dollars. The Bush campaign’s potential move could
mean having the super PAC take over not just television advertising and direct
mail, but a host of other campaign duties, according to The Associated Press.
This would essentially amount to making the super PAC the true campaign center,
without money limits that would apply to traditional campaigns.
Federal law prohibits coordination between the candidates’ organizations and the
super PACs. That ban is fast becoming a fiction, with federal election
regulators uninterested and unable to enforce the law. The result is that some
of the candidates’ closest political advisers and managers are now going off to
take charge of super PACs, where they manage the unlimited money pouring in for
For example, Mike Murphy, Mr. Bush’s longtime political adviser, is reportedly
expected to manage the Bush super PAC. Experienced operatives could skirt the
non-coordination rule and do what a candidate needs without explicitly working
with the campaign organization. Other super PACs likewise have already installed
campaign loyalists at their helms while proclaiming non-coordination.
A legal challenge to this way of doing business, being prepared by two political
watchdog groups, Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center, cites a law that
bars a candidate or his proxies from effectively controlling an independent
entity like a super PAC.
Unfortunately, no one in politics expects the dysfunctional Federal Election
Commission to follow through on the complaint. The Justice Department has said
it might look deeper into campaign abuses, but Mr. Bush and the other candidates
insist they strictly adhere to the regulatory process, such as it is.
Not so incidentally, Mr. Bush has been freely raising money for his super PAC
since he is not yet a formally declared candidate, so coordination isn’t even an
Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook and Twitter, and sign up
for the Opinion Today newsletter.
A version of this editorial appears in print
on April 27, 2015,
on page A18 of the New York edition with the headline:
How Super PACs Can Run Campaigns.
Like bettors checking Las Vegas odds on the Super Bowl,
specialists in the nation’s booming campaign finance industry are tracking the
action in the 2016 elections, not so much to assess the candidates as to see how
much of a payout is likely this time around in the grand casino of American
The record total of $6.3 billion spent on the presidential and congressional
elections of 2012 is only the starting point. Estimates of next year’s likely
total are running between $7.5 billion and $8 billion. This moneyed universe is
certain to keep expanding as the political industry’s managers and their
candidates master the unlimited fund-raising and spending devices they now have
The sheer numbers should be enough to raise public alarm. But needed reforms are
going nowhere, with too many congressional members busy bolstering their
incumbency with the help of the same large-scale donors. In last year’s
elections, the 100 biggest campaign check writers gave $323 million, plus many
millions more in anonymous donations to politically active “social welfare”
groups and other new money troughs. According to a report by Politico, total
spending by the 100 ultra-donors exceeded that of the 4.75 million ordinary
Americans who made smaller donations of $200 or less.
The risk of special-interest corruption? Five years ago, when the Supreme
Court’s Citizens United decision dashed decades of sensible controls by equating
unlimited corporate and union spending with individual free speech, Justice
Anthony Kennedy reassured the nation that full disclosure of donors would be
He envisioned a world, nonexistent, where disclosure lets citizens “see whether
elected officials are ‘in the pocket’ of so-called moneyed interests.” But
Congress then killed healthy disclosure requirements, and the way things are
working out, with untraceable donations on the rise, it’s more the reverse: a
case of moneyed interests moving snugly into the pockets of grateful officials.
Citizens United is just one of the threats to fair campaigning that is posed by
runaway money. No less pernicious has been the rise of the nonprofit groups
posing as “social welfare” organizations, while in truth they are political
machines. This fiction is garnering large donations from players seeking to hide
under protections in the tax code. The I.R.S. has timidly retreated from
policing this abuse because of Tea Party complaints. The Federal Election
Commission, charged with policing campaigns, is even more inert, paralyzed by an
enforcement standoff engineered by Republican commissioners.
Antidotes to the politics of toxic money, in the form of a package of reforms,
were offered last week to the new Congress. One would rein in the super-PAC
cornucopia of big money for candidates pretending to be uninvolved. Another
would strengthen ordinary Americans’ political speech by updating the public
financing system for presidential elections and creating a badly needed new one
for congressional races. A third, delivering on Justice Kennedy’s dream, would
mandate full disclosure of large-scale contributions and of the identities of
affluent donors now playing politics from the shadows.
But so far, reform of any sort has been no more than a dream. In this
unresponsive Congress, it is likely to remain so.
A version of this editorial appears in print on January 25, 2015,
on page SR12 of the New York edition with the headline: The Growing Shadow of
The New York Times
By NICHOLAS CONFESSORE
and JESS BIDGOOD
private air terminal at Logan Airport in Boston early Wednesday, men in
unwrinkled suits sank into plush leather chairs as they waited to board
Gulfstream jets, trading consolations over Mitt Romney’s loss the day before.
“All I can say is the American people have spoken,” said Kenneth Langone, the
founder of Home Depot and one of Mr. Romney’s top fund-raisers, briskly plucking
off his hat and settling into a couch.
The biggest single donor in political history, the casino billionaire Sheldon
Adelson, mingled with other Romney backers at a postelection breakfast, fresh
off a large gamble gone bad. Of the eight candidates he supported with tens of
millions of dollars in contributions to “super PACs,” none were victorious on
And as calls came in on Wednesday from some of the donors who had poured more
than $300 million into the pair of big-spending outside groups founded in part
by Karl Rove — perhaps the leading political entrepreneur of the super PAC era —
he offered them a grim upside: without us, the race would not have been as close
as it was.
The most expensive election in American history drew to a close this week with a
price tag estimated at more than $6 billion, propelled by legal and regulatory
decisions that allowed wealthy donors to pour record amounts of cash into races
around the country.
But while outside spending affected the election in innumerable ways — reshaping
the Republican presidential nominating contest, clogging the airwaves with
unprecedented amounts of negative advertising and shoring up embattled
Republican incumbents in the House — the prizes most sought by the emerging
class of megadonors remained outside their grasp. President Obama will return to
the White House in January, and the Democrats have strengthened their lock on
The election’s most lavishly self-financed candidate fared no better. Linda E.
McMahon, a Connecticut Republican who is a former professional wrestling
executive, spent close to $100 million — nearly all of it her own money — on two
races for the Senate, conceding defeat on Tuesday for the second time in three
“Money is a necessary condition for electoral success,” said Bob Biersack, a
senior fellow at the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign
spending. “But it’s not sufficient, and it’s never been.”
Even by the flush standards of a campaign in which the two presidential
candidates raised $1 billion each, the scale of outside spending was staggering:
more than $1 billion all told, about triple the amount in 2010.
Mr. Obama faced at least $386 million in negative advertising from super PACs
and other outside spenders, more than double what the groups supporting him
spent on the airwaves. Outside groups spent more than $37 million in Virginia’s
Senate race and $30 million in Ohio’s, a majority to aid the Republican
The bulk of that outside money came from a relatively small group of wealthy
donors, unleashed by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which allowed
unlimited contributions to super PACs. Harold Simmons, a Texas industrialist,
gave $26.9 million to super PACs backing Mr. Romney and Republican candidates
for the Senate. Joe Ricketts, the owner of the Chicago Cubs, spent close to $13
million to bankroll a super PAC attacking Mr. Obama over federal spending.
Bob Perry, a Texas homebuilder, poured more than $21 million into super PACs
active in the presidential race and the Senate battles in Florida and Virginia,
where Democrats narrowly prevailed. A donor network marshaled by Charles and
David Koch, the billionaire industrialists and conservative philanthropists,
reportedly sought to raise $400 million for tax-exempt groups that are not
required to disclose their spending.
Mr. Adelson’s giving to super PACs and other outside groups came to more than
$60 million, though in public Mr. Adelson did not seem overly concerned about
the paltry returns on his investment.
“Paying bills,” Mr. Adelson said on Tuesday night when asked by a Norwegian
reporter how he thought his donations had been spent. “That’s how you spend
money. Either that or become a Jewish husband — you spend a lot of money.”
Flush with cash, Republican-leaning groups outspent Democratic ones by an even
greater margin than in 2010. But rather than produce a major partisan imbalance,
the money merely evened the playing field in many races.
In several competitive Senate races, high spending by outside groups was offset
to a large extent with stronger fund-raising by Democratic candidates, assisted
at the margins by Democratic super PACs. For much of the fall, Mr. Obama and
Democratic groups broadcast at least as many ads, and sometimes more, in swing
states than Mr. Romney and his allied groups, in part because Mr. Obama was able
to secure lower ad rates by paying for most of the advertising himself. Mr.
Romney relied far more on outside groups, which must pay higher rates.
Haley Barbour, a former Mississippi governor who helped Mr. Rove raise money for
American Crossroads and its sister group, Crossroads Grassroots Policy
Strategies, said that without a blitz of coordinated anti-Obama advertising in
the summer, the campaign would not have been as competitive.
“I believe that some of that money actually kept Romney from getting beat down
by the carpet-bombing he underwent from the Obama forces,” Mr. Barbour said. “I
did look at it more as us trying to keep our candidates from getting swamped,
like what happened to McCain.”
Some advocates for tighter campaign financing regulations argued that who won or
lost was beside the point. The danger, they argued, is that in the post-Citizens
United world, candidates and officeholders on both sides of the aisle are far
more beholden to the wealthy individuals who can finance large-scale independent
“Unlimited contributions and secret money in American politics have resulted in
the past in scandal and the corruption of government decisions,” said Fred
Wertheimer, the president of Democracy 21, a watchdog group. “This will happen
again in the future.”
But on Wednesday, at least, the nation’s megadonors returned home with lighter
wallets and few victories.
As the morning wore on at Logan Airport, more guests from Mr. Romney’s
election-night party at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center trickled in,
lugging garment bags and forming a small line at the security checkpoint.
“It’s going to be a long flight home, isn’t it?” said one person, who asked not
to be identified.
The investor Julian Robertson, who held fund-raisers for Mr. Romney and gave
more than $2 million to a pro-Romney super PAC, arrived with several companions.
Mr. Robertson spotted an acquaintance: Emil W. Henry Jr., an economic adviser
and a fund-raiser for Mr. Romney, to whom Mr. Robertson had offered a ride on
The New York Times
By NICHOLAS CONFESSORE
and JO CRAVEN McGINTY
Obama and Mitt Romney are both on pace to raise more than $1 billion with their
parties by Election Day, according to financial disclosures filed by the
campaigns on Thursday.
From the beginning of 2011 through Oct. 17, Mr. Obama and the Democrats raised
about $1.06 billion, and Mr. Romney and the Republicans collected $954 million,
including some money for the party’s Congressional efforts, setting up 2012 to
be the most expensive presidential campaign in history.
But the sources of that money, raised over the course of a deeply polarizing
campaign, echo the sharp divisions between the two men and their parties over
issues like abortion rights, the role of government in regulating industry and
the country’s economic future.
Wall Street has invested more heavily in Mr. Romney, a former financier who has
pledged to repeal Mr. Obama’s new financial regulations, than in any
presidential candidate in memory. Employees of financial firms had given more
than $18 million dollars to Mr. Romney’s campaign through the end of September
and tens of millions more to the “super PACs” supporting him.
Insurance companies, doctors and law, accounting and real estate firms are
giving less to Mr. Obama and the Democratic National Committee than they did
four years ago, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.
Yet donors in other industries have stepped in. With Mr. Obama making repeated
trips to Silicon Valley and holding round tables with executives there, the
technology industry has donated about $14 million to the president and the
Democrats, substantially more than in 2008.
Retirees, the biggest single source of money for both sides, have given the
Democrats much more than they did four years ago, as have employees of women’s
groups, retailers and hospitals and nursing homes.
To make up for the loss of business money that flowed to his campaign four years
ago, Mr. Obama has also turned to the very smallest donors, building an army of
millions of supporters who have given as little as a few dollars each. About 4.2
million people sent donations to Mr. Obama and the D.N.C., his campaign said on
Thursday, roughly one million more than in 2008.
Over all, 55 percent of the Obama campaign’s money through the end of September
came in donations of less than $200, including from many people who have
repeatedly sent in small checks over the course of the campaign. Just 13 percent
of his checks were for $2,500, the maximum that donors are allowed to contribute
for either the primary or general election.
Mr. Romney, by contrast, has cultivated business leaders and benefited from a
Republican donor establishment that is eager to defeat Mr. Obama, raising an
unprecedented amount of money from wealthy donors who gave the maximum allowed.
Just 22 percent of his cash has come from donations of less than $200. Through
the end of September, 45 percent of checks to Mr. Romney’s campaign were for the
maximum $2,500 contribution.
Neither candidate is likely to raise as much money directly for his own
presidential committee as Mr. Obama did in 2008. A flood of online donations
that year, and support from many traditionally Republican donors, helped Mr.
Obama raise $748 million for his presidential committee. The D.N.C. raised
another $244 million, bringing the combined total to a little under $1 billion.
This time around, Mr. Obama, as an incumbent, has raised more of his total
through the D.N.C., which can accept five-figure checks from each of Mr. Obama’s
wealthiest supporters. By raising more money from his very biggest and very
smallest donors, Mr. Obama has been able to offset his losses from the business
world and from previous contributors who gave less or not at all this time,
whether because of the recession or fading enthusiasm.
Mr. Romney, after becoming the presumptive Republican nominee in the spring,
almost immediately began a fund-raising effort with the Republican National
Committee, several state parties and the two Congressional campaign committees.
Mr. Romney’s total through September included about $13.6 million that was
raised for and transferred to the National Republican Senatorial Committee and
the National Republican Congressional Committee.
The overall totals do not include hundreds of millions of dollars being raised
and spent by “super PACs” and other outside groups, mostly to benefit Mr. Romney
and other Republicans. Groups aligned with Mr. Romney have spent $302 million on
campaign advertising that they are required to disclose to the F.E.C., compared
with about $120 million for groups aligned with Mr. Obama. Tens of millions of
dollars more has been spent on issue advertisements whose precise costs are
difficult to measure.
“As the Romney campaign and their ‘super PAC’ allies continue to outspend us on
the air, we’re making every effort to expand our donor base heading into the
final stretch,” said Adam Fetcher, an Obama spokesman.
Mr. Romney and the Republicans raised about $21.3 million more than Mr. Obama
and the Democrats during the first 17 days of October, according to the
disclosures filed on Thursday, as Mr. Romney rose in the polls and performed
well in debates, emboldening his supporters.
Mr. Obama and the Democratic National Committee took in $92.4 million during
that period, after surpassing Mr. Romney in August and September.
Mr. Romney and the R.N.C. raised $113.7 million over the same period, the final
days for which the campaigns are required to report their fund-raising before
the election on Nov. 6. Mr. Romney and his party also spent about $146.2 million
during the first 17 days in October, slightly less than the $149.7 million spent
by Mr. Obama and the Democrats.
While Mr. Obama’s team invested tens of millions of dollars early in the
campaign to identify, contact and raise money from grass-roots voters, those
expenditures have left the Republicans with more cash in the final weeks of the
election that could finance a late surge of advertising. Mr. Romney and the
G.O.P. ended the final filing period with $169 million in cash on hand,
significantly more than the $123.8 million held by Mr. Obama and the Democrats.
and Derek Willis contributed reporting.
Do you remember that moment in the first Austin Powers movie
when Dr. Evil, back in action after being cryogenically frozen for 30 years,
gets his hands on a nuclear warhead? “If you want it back,” he snarls to a group
of world leaders who have gathered in a secret United Nations bunker, “you will
have to pay me” — here he pauses for dramatic effect — “one million dollars!”
The assembled leaders burst into laughter because it was such a pathetically
Campaign finance these days reminds me a lot of that scene. I lived for a few
years in Washington, right around the time that Congress, aroused by the
Watergate scandal, was reforming the country’s campaign finance laws. It
instituted a system for presidential elections that combined small contributions
from individuals ($1,000 or less), public financing from the taxpayers and a cap
on how much the candidates could spend. In the Gerald Ford-Jimmy Carter year of
1976, the two candidates were allowed to spend — can we pause here for dramatic
effect? — around $35 million each.
Fast forward 36 years, to last weekend’s news that the Obama campaign had raised
$181 million in just one month, September. Not all that long ago, the ability to
partake of public financing was a sign that you had arrived as a serious
candidate; today no candidate in his right mind would want to be so constrained.
Four years ago, Obama became the first presidential candidate since campaign
reform was instituted to opt out of public financing for the general election.
He raised $750 million. John McCain, who accepted public financing, was only
able to directly spend the $84 million or so he was allotted under the system.
(Although the Republican Party raised millions more.) This election season, Mitt
Romney and President Obama could end up spending more than $1 billion each. They
seem to spend more time fund-raising than pressing the flesh with voters.
According to Brendan Doherty, a political science professor at the United States
Naval Academy, Obama has held six fund-raisers in a single day. Twice.
And that doesn’t even account for what’s truly different about this election:
the rise of the “super PACs” and 501(c)4s, which are essentially a form of
campaign money-laundering, allowing wealthy people to contribute millions toward
supposedly “independent” spending on campaign advertising, polling and other
expensive campaign goodies. Sheldon Adelson, the casino mogul, whose main
political interest appears to be Israel, has pumped $10 million into Restore Our
Future, the biggest Republican super PAC. Although individual contributions to a
particular candidate remains severely restricted — no more than $5,000 — the
amount someone can pour into a super PAC is limitless. The means by which the
country finances its campaigns is utterly broken.
In a recent cover story in The Atlantic, James Bennet, the editor, traces how
that happened. He focuses on a man named Jim Bopp Jr., a lawyer from Terre
Haute, Ind., who has largely devoted his life to freeing the nation of campaign
spending limits. To him — and, indeed, to the majority of the current Supreme
Court, in the Citizens United case — limits on political spending are a
violation of the First Amendment.
What is astonishing is the way Bopp makes unlimited spending seem actually
democratic. “Most people don’t even know who their congressman is,” Bopp tells
Bennet. If there were more spending on campaigns, voters would be more educated
about the candidates. The Supreme Court majority, meanwhile, has essentially
said that, by definition, campaign spending that is independent of the candidate
cannot be corrupting.
But, of course, what we are learning in the real world is that super PACs and
501(c)4s are hardly independent. Karl Rove, who absolutely knows what the Romney
campaign needs at any given moment, runs the most important of the Republican
super PACs. Rahm Emanuel, the mayor of Chicago and Obama’s first chief of staff,
is helping to raise money for a Democratic super PAC.
What we also know in the real world is that unlimited spending will not serve to
enlighten voters. It will deaden them to political argument — as is happening in
just about every swing state, where the ads are running with such frequency that
people are tuning them out. Finally, we know from hard experience that the money
that comes into politics has the potential to corrupt.
In Congress we see it every day. A congressman gets on an important committee,
begins to raise money from the companies that care about the committee’s issues
— and, suddenly, the congressman is writing legislation the company wants.
What feels different now is that the sums are so large, and that it has the
potential to influence not just Congressional and Senate candidates but the
presidential candidates as well. If Romney wins, will he really be willing to
take a position on Israel that is different from Adelson’s? One suspects not.
“This can’t be good for Democracy,” Bennet told me in an e-mail. It’s not.
Public financing of presidential elections, the greatest
reform to come out of the post-Watergate era, died this year after a long
illness. It was 36 years old, and was drowned by big money and starved by the
disdain of politicians who should have known better.
From 1976 until 2008, every major-party presidential candidate took public money
for the general election, adhering to spending limits that significantly reduced
the influence of money on American elections. Candidates began dropping out of
public financing for primaries in 2000, and then in 2008, Barack Obama abandoned
the system entirely, preferring to raise more money from small donations, and
promising to fix the public program. He has made almost no attempt to fulfill
This year will be the first since Richard Nixon’s day that neither major
candidate will accept public financing. Both Mitt Romney and President Obama
plan to raise hundreds of millions of dollars, far more than they could get from
the public system.
Public financing could still be resuscitated, but first, someone in power has to
care about it. The Republican-led House has voted to kill the system outright. A
few House Democrats have proposed a good bill to fix it, but no one in the
Senate has picked up the bill. And the two major candidates are too busy
grubbing for the unlimited donations that now dominate politics.
The era of “super PACs” and secret donors has made public financing more urgent.
A system that greatly magnified small donations with high matches would give
ordinary citizens a shot at competing with corporations, unions and wealthy
donors. It would allow candidates to campaign more instead of constantly begging
among the rich. And it would give a challenger a chance to be competitive
without the help of a super PAC.
Ronald Reagan could not have challenged President Gerald Ford for the Republican
nomination in 1976 without accepting public dollars. The system also made
campaigns possible for such diverse candidates as Jimmy Carter (1976), George H.
W. Bush (1980), Jesse Jackson (1988) and Pat Buchanan (1992), all of whom had
essentially run out of cash against opponents with much more money.
There is nothing conservative or liberal about public financing, which allows
any kind of political voice to be heard above a roar of cash — if lawmakers are
willing to spend more. Here are several ways that Congress could revive the
Raise the grant The biggest reason candidates are dropping out of the system is
that they can raise much more money outside of it. This year, Mr. Romney and Mr.
Obama could get $91.2 million each from the Treasury if they participated in the
system for the general election, and that is all they could spend. In 2008, Mr.
Obama and his party raised about $750 million. He and Mr. Romney both expect to
do better than that this year, and that does not include the $200 million or so
to be spent by super PACs and other independent groups.
The grant needs to be doubled or tripled. A House bill proposed by two
Democrats, David Price and Chris Van Hollen, would give general-election
candidates $50 million, plus up to $150 million more based on a 4-to-1 match of
donations of $200 or less. There would be no spending limit, but individual
donations would be limited to $500. (Currently, for candidates not participating
in the system, donations can go up to $2,500 in the primaries and $2,500 in the
The $200 million in the bill may not be attractive enough to candidates. While
it would never equal private fund-raising, a grant of $300 million for each
party could allow very competitive campaigns, and might appeal to candidates
eager to spend less time raising money.
Increase the primary match Primary candidates now receive a government match of
up to $250 for each donation, not nearly enough. None of the candidates this
year applied for matching money except for Buddy Roemer, the former Louisiana
governor, because they would have had to adhere to strict spending limits in
return. The Democratic bill would eliminate the spending limits and provide a
4-to-1 match for donations of $200 or less, up to $100 million instead of the
current $45 million. It would also start matching money six months before the
first primary or caucus, instead of making candidates wait for Jan. 1 as they do
Mr. Obama’s campaign is justly proud of its many small donations, but so far
this year, a third of the $350 million he and the party have raised has been
collected by bundlers, usually wealthy friends who collect cash from their
friends to raise their influence. Higher matches for small donors mean less
influence for bundlers.
Eliminate the checkoff Around 7 percent of taxpayers now check the box on their
tax returns allowing money to be used for the presidential system, even though
polls show far more people support it. That limits the amount the government can
spend to make the system more robust. The checkoff was part of the political
compromise that created the system, but taxpayers are not asked if they support
wars or farm subsidies, and a program this vital should be no different.
Asking people to support a program like this every April 15, when they are most
annoyed at the government, was never a good idea. With the economy still
struggling and deficits still high, giving even more money to politicians may be
a hard sell to taxpayers. But it is actually a small price to pay to preserve a
democracy in which ordinary citizens are not shouted down by those who have
bigger bank accounts.
April 20, 2012
The New York Times
By NICHOLAS CONFESSORE
and DEREK WILLIS
President Obama’s re-election campaign is straining to raise
the huge sums it is counting on to run against Mitt Romney, with sharp dropoffs
in donations from nearly every major industry forcing it to rely more than ever
on small contributions and a relative handful of major donors.
From Wall Street to Hollywood, from doctors and lawyers, the traditional big
sources of campaign cash are not delivering for the Obama campaign as they did
four years ago. The falloff has left his fund-raising totals running behind
where they were at the same point in 2008 — though well ahead of Mr. Romney’s —
and has induced growing concern among aides and supporters as they confront the
prospect that Republicans and their “super PAC” allies will hold a substantial
advantage this fall.
With big checks no longer flowing as quickly into his campaign, Mr. Obama is
leaning harder on his grass-roots supporters, whose small contributions make up
well over half of the money he raised through the end of March, according to
reports filed Friday with the Federal Election Commission. And Mr. Obama is
asking far more of those large donors still giving, exploiting his joint
fund-raising arrangement with the Democratic National Committee to collect
five-figure checks from individuals who have already given the maximum $5,000
contribution to his re-election campaign.
“They clearly are feeling the pressure,” said one major Obama fund-raiser, who
asked for anonymity to characterize his conversations with campaign officials.
“They’re behind where they expected to be. You have to factor in $500
million-plus in Republican super PAC money.”
With no primary to excite his base, the economy struggling to rebound, and four
years of political battles with Wall Street and other industries taking their
toll, Mr. Obama’s campaign raised about $196 million through March, compared
with $235 million at the same point in 2008. It has lagged behind its own
internal quotas in some cities, according to people involved with the
fund-raising efforts. But that has been offset by a highly successful joint
fund-raising program with the national committee, which raised about $150
million, twice as much as in 2008.
Mr. Obama has held more than a hundred joint fund-raisers since last spring, far
more than President George W. Bush during his 2004 re-election, and has tucked
fund-raising stops into many of his official presidential trips.
The result: The national committee’s fund-raising from the technology industry,
entrepreneurs, Wall Street and the entertainment industry have all risen sharply
compared with 2008, even as the Obama campaign’s performance in those areas has
tailed off, according to data provided by the Center for Responsive Politics.
And with no primary to fight, Mr. Obama is spending much less than he was at
this stage in 2008: He had about twice as much money in the bank at the end of
March than he did four years ago.
All told, Mr. Obama and the Democratic committee ended March with about $130
million in cash on hand, a sizable war chest and far more than Mr. Romney and
the Republican National Committee. Candidates typically raise more as the
election nears, and Mr. Obama’s fund-raising accelerated sharply in the summer
But Mr. Obama faces a major challenge in the months ahead. To raise as much
money for his campaign as he did four years ago, the president would have to
raise about $70 million a month through the end of the election cycle, more than
triple the rate he has been bringing in cash so far.
Jim Messina, Mr. Obama’s campaign manager, has publicly set a more modest goal,
saying the campaign expects to exceed Mr. Obama’s 2008 fund-raising of about
$750 million only by counting money he is raising for the national committee as
well. That would require the campaign and the committee to raise about $51
million a month through November. Mr. Messina has also warned the party’s two
Congressional campaign committees not to expect their traditional allotments of
Democratic National Committee cash this year, money Mr. Obama is husbanding for
his own efforts.
Mr. Romney, the likely Republican nominee, ended March with just $10 million in
cash on hand, according to campaign reports filed Friday with the Federal
Election Commission, and has raised about $87 million during the Republican
primary season. His aides are hoping to raise a total of $800 million for the
fall elections in combination with the Republican National Committee, which last
week finalized a joint fund-raising agreement with Mr. Romney. The committee
ended March with $23.4 million in cash on hand.
But Mr. Romney is also expecting significant support from Republican super PACs
and other outside groups. On Friday, officials at American Crossroads, the
leading conservative super PAC, reported that they had raised close to $100
million so far this year for the group and an affiliated organization,
Crossroads GPS. Crossroads alone is aiming to raise as much as $300 million this
year, while other conservative groups, like Americans for Prosperity, have aimed
at raising close to $200 million.
The super PAC backing Mr. Romney in the Republican primary, Restore Our Future,
has raised $51.9 million, and plans to raise twice that by November.
By contrast, the network of Democratic super PACs has raised far less.
Democratic groups with close ties to the party’s Congressional leaders have
raised about $18 million so far during the 2012 cycle. Priorities USA Action,
founded by former Obama aides as a counterweight to Crossroads, raised about $9
million through the end of March.
To remain competitive, the Obama campaign has spent millions of dollars on
high-tech, small-dollar prospecting. They have used sophisticated data mining
techniques and low-dollar promotions — like $3-a-head raffles for dinner with
the president — to reassemble the network of millions of supporters whose
contributions helped propel him into the White House.
All told, about 58 percent of Mr. Obama’s total fund-raising during the election
has come in checks of less than $200, compared with about 38 percent in 2008. In
March alone, Mr. Obama took in $14.2 million worth of checks under $200 — more
than all the money his campaign raised in February.
judge took an important step toward ending secret donations to big-spending
political groups, striking down regulations that permitted some groups to hide
their donors. Unfortunately, the ruling probably came too late to flush this
corrupting practice from this year’s elections — though there is still time for
Congress to do so.
The secret-donor problem began in 2007 when the Supreme Court, in the Wisconsin
Right to Life case, ended restrictions on corporate and union political spending
by advocacy groups in the weeks prior to an election. A few weeks later, the
Federal Election Commission, naïvely suggesting that some corporate donors to
those groups might not have intended to give for political purposes, said that
only those donations explicitly earmarked for political purposes had to be
disclosed. The loophole was obvious: Just don’t declare any donation to be
political, and they can all be secret.
The rule does not apply to modern “super PACs,” which exist for political
purposes and must disclose their donors. But it allowed groups that accept money
for other purposes, like the United States Chamber of Commerce, to collect
millions of undisclosed dollars to buy ads that criticize candidates who differ
with their pro-business agenda.
During the 2010 Congressional elections, political operatives like Karl Rove
helped set up a variety of purported charities or educational groups to provide
a shield to anonymous political donors. Along with the chamber, these groups
took in more than $138 million in undisclosed money that year, 80 percent of
which was spent supporting Republican candidates. Many of the same secretive
groups have already begun running ads in this year’s campaign, and the flood
will shortly begin in earnest.
A year ago, Representative Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat from Maryland, filed
suit against the F.E.C., saying its 2007 regulation violated the intention of
Congress when it passed the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform act in 2002.
That law makes it clear that donations greater than $1,000 to advocacy groups
have to be disclosed.
On Friday, District Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington agreed. She ruled
that the F.E.C. overstepped its boundaries in requiring disclosure only of
explicit political donations. “Congress spoke plainly” in requiring full
disclosure, she wrote, and even the Citizens United decision called for
disclosure of the unlimited corporate and union donations it permitted.
Judge Jackson’s clearsighted opinion is a win for clean elections. But it will
probably be appealed, which could delay a final decision by months or years. If
it were a functioning body, the F.E.C. would change its regulations to comply
with the court ruling, but its three Republican commissioners have repeatedly
blocked attempts to require disclosure.
Congress could quickly resolve the issue if it were truly interested in cleaning
up campaign finance. Mr. Van Hollen has introduced a new version of the Disclose
Act that would go even further than the court decision in making donations
transparent, requiring the names of top donors to appear in ads, and imposing
stronger reporting requirements for super PACs. Republicans filibustered a
similar bill last year in the Senate, and no Republicans have stepped up to
support this version. In the meantime, the grim tide of secret money keeps
March 14, 2012
The New York Times
By JEREMY W. PETERS
When presidential candidates have a message they want voters
to hear far and wide, they have typically turned to that old campaign standby:
the television ad.
But as President Obama and his advisers prepare to begin their general election
push, they are turning first not to a 30-second commercial but a 17-minute
online documentary that they hope will be shared and spread online through
social networks and e-mail.
When the Tom Hanks-narrated, Hollywood-style documentary, called “The Road We’ve
Traveled,” is set to go online Thursday night, it will appear on a new YouTube
platform that enables the Obama campaign to turn the passive experience of
watching a video into an organizing and fund-raising tool. The technology will
allow viewers to post campaign content to their Facebook pages, volunteer and
donate all without having to leave Mr. Obama’s dedicated YouTube page.
Eventually campaign strategists hope to use the new software to focus on people
in highly specific ways. For example, if someone watches a video about a certain
geographic location, like Florida, a list of that person’s Facebook friends in
Florida would appear alongside the video with a message from the campaign that
suggests recommending the video to them.
The Obama campaign’s efforts underscore the importance that political campaigns
now attach to Web video and the role the medium will probably play in the coming
election. Once best known in politics as the venue for viral parodies and
hastily produced response efforts, online video is vital in the way campaigns
communicate with and persuade voters.
“The importance of video is so new for campaigns, even relative to ’08,” said
Teddy Goff, the Obama campaign’s digital director. “Now it’s in some ways the
primary way our digital operation communicates with supporters. And increasingly
it will be the primary way we communicate with undecided voters.”
Television is likely to remain the dominant way campaigns reach voters for the
foreseeable future. Experts predict that about 10 percent of the campaigns’
advertising budgets this year will be spent on the Web. But online video offers
campaigns a way to connect with people they know are engaged and not
fast-forwarding through messages on their DVR players or flipping channels
And, perhaps more important, it offers them a way to disseminate their messages
into online communities where friends and family members share, discuss and
debate. Campaigns believe that helps elevate their messages beyond propaganda.
“This year it’s all about getting your message into those trusted networks
because everyone is suspicious about politicians,” said Darrell West, of the
Center for Technology Innovation at the Brookings Institution. “It’s hard to be
persuasive through a direct advertisement. But if you can get people to share
videos, it adds a degree of credibility because a friend is endorsing it. People
will take it more seriously.”
“The Road We’ve Traveled” was conceived and produced by the campaign to stand
out from standard political video fare. For starters, it was directed by Davis
Guggenheim, the Oscar-winning director whose film credits include “Waiting for
Superman” and “An Inconvenient Truth.” It features interviews with Obama
administration officials past and present, including Vice President Joseph R.
Biden Jr. and Rahm Emanuel, the former White House chief of staff. Former
President Bill Clinton makes an appearance as well, hailing Mr. Obama’s decision
to kill Osama bin Laden as one he hoped he would have had the courage to make as
The new YouTube platform that the Obama campaign will use to release the
documentary gives anyone visiting the president’s YouTube page a number of
options to share the content or pledge support, the kind of one-click approach
that campaigns now see as an integral part of their digital strategies.
Mitt Romney’s campaign is using similar technology with its Web videos. Visitors
can donate, volunteer and share content, all within Mr. Romney’s YouTube page.
The campaign has worked to keep its video offerings dynamic, producing roughly
two a week over the course of the campaign.
The Obama campaign has taken a similar one-stop-shopping approach to streamline
online donations. Borrowing a technique from online merchants like Amazon and
Fresh Direct, repeat donors do not need to resubmit their credit card
information to make a pledge. The campaign saves it on file, and all the donor
has to do is click.
Where online video offers some of the most potential, strategists say, is in
modernizing the traditional aspects of campaigning, like get-out-the-vote
efforts and responses to attacks from opponents.
“It’s the ability to get your message out quickly that makes all the
difference,” said Zac Moffatt, the Romney campaign’s digital director. “And
that’s really where I think YouTube has found a niche in politics.”
Some strategists said what has changed in this election is the ability to turn
Web video into something people act on. “One of the biggest challenges with
YouTube is giving people a clear action to take after viewing,” said Stephen
Muller, the Obama campaign’s video director. “The goal is to bring our
engagement tools to our supporters.”
March 14, 2012
The New York Times
By ASHLEY PARKER
and NICHOLAS CONFESSORE
A day after losing Mississippi and Alabama to Rick Santorum,
Mitt Romney took his campaign to a state where he had no public schedule, no
time carved out to mingle with voters, and no rallies or town halls.
While Mr. Santorum and Newt Gingrich hunted for votes in Puerto Rico and
Illinois, Mr. Romney traveled to New York City to raise money and reassure top
Republican donors — a constituency that favors his candidacy, and one perhaps
most rattled by his inability to win the confidence of the party’s conservative
Mr. Romney has raised more than $63 million, twice as much as his nearest rival,
with about a fifth of his money coming from the New York area, home to many of
the financial industry executives whose cause Mr. Romney has championed on the
campaign trail. Mr. Romney has used that huge cash advantage to hammer his
rivals in everything from television advertisements to on-the-ground mailers.
But many donors remain frustrated with the narrative that has begun to
crystallize around Mr. Romney as an out-of-touch, gaffe-prone politician who
cannot connect with voters. Some said they did not understand why he was not
able to surge ahead after his win in Florida, and others wished he had invested
more time and money in Mississippi, where they said a victory Tuesday night was
within Mr. Romney’s reach and could have halted Mr. Santorum’s momentum.
Mr. Romney’s pitch to donors Wednesday was similar to the one he made to his
finance and political teams in Boston after Super Tuesday. “It’s going to be a
long tough road, but we’re going to rough it out, and we’re going to be the
nominee,” said John Catsimatidis, a supermarket magnate who organized one of
But while the events — breakfast and lunch fund-raisers at the Waldorf-Astoria
and an evening gala in Connecticut — raised about $3 million, Mr. Romney faced
lingering questions about his candidacy.
“Are you still able to pick up delegates when you don’t win a state?” asked one
worried guest at the breakfast event. Of course, Mr. Romney assured him.
“You may not be declared the winner, but in these proportional states, you still
pick up delegates,” Mr. Romney said, according to people who attended the event.
Mr. Romney also sought to ease donor concerns by returning to the delegate math,
a pitch his campaign also made in a memo that went out Wednesday morning. He
pointed to victories Tuesday in Hawaii and American Samoa that increased his
delegate lead, as well as the delegates he still picked up in the two states he
But Mr. Romney needs money to collect the 1,144 delegates required to clinch the
“In order to win against Barack Obama, our nominee needs to have the resources
to be competitive,” said Matt Rhoades, Mr. Romney’s campaign manager. “Our
fund-raising events provide us with the resources to continue our paid media and
voter contact efforts in primaries and caucuses across the country.”
While donors privately worry about Mr. Romney’s ability to relate to average
Americans, the finance and corporate executives he mingled with Wednesday are
perhaps the group with whom he feels most comfortable — and who are equally
enthusiastic about him.
“Don’t forget, New York is a town of businesspeople, investment bankers,
bankers, and they respond to him whether they’re Republican or Reagan Democrats
or businesspeople who used to be Clinton Democrats,” Mr. Catsimatidis said.
“They love this guy because he’s a straight arrow, he’s level-headed, and he’s
going to do the right thing for our country.”
Mr. Romney’s experience at Bain Capital creates a natural bond between him and
his top-dollar supporters.
“Many donors are small-business owners, and they understand how bad their
business has been hurt under the last three or four years of President Obama,”
said Austin Barbour, one of Mr. Romney’s national finance chairmen.
While Mr. Romney has had a major cash advantage for most of the nominating
campaign, the long duration and growing cost of the contest has depleted much of
the money he had banked before the Iowa caucuses and has raised pressure on his
donors to refill his coffers.
“It’s going to be a slog,” said Mel Sembler, a Florida real estate developer and
a member of Mr. Romney’s national finance committee. “It means we have to
continue raising the money. We thought it’d be over much earlier.”
presidential primary season is being brought to you by a handful of
multimillionaires and companies who have propped up the candidates with enormous
donations to their “super PACs.” Just two dozen or so individuals, couples and
companies have given more than 80 percent of the money collected by super PACs,
or $54 million, according to disclosure forms released on Monday.
Freed of nearly all regulations or good sense by Citizens United and other court
decisions, the super PACs are raising money in ludicrously large sums. The $10
million from Sheldon and Miriam Adelson to Winning Our Future, which has
sustained Newt Gingrich’s trailing campaign, is the biggest single donation to a
candidate. But every candidate now has his own millionaire supporter, and the
concentration of wealth in the campaign is growing.
The people writing these outsize checks are committed to defeating President
Obama, but their interests don’t stop there. Many are involved in businesses or
ideological causes that have clear policy agendas with the federal government.
Their huge influence on individual candidates demonstrates the potential for
corruption inherent in the super PAC era. Among the biggest givers:
¶Harold Simmons, a billionaire corporate raider, has given $1 million to Mr.
Gingrich’s political action committee, $1.1 million to Rick Perry’s PAC,
$100,000 to Mitt Romney’s PAC, and $10 million to American Crossroads, the super
PAC advised by Karl Rove that is supporting many Republican candidates. Mr.
Simmons’s companies make metals, paints and chemicals, among other things, and
have gotten into trouble over lead and uranium emissions from previous decades.
He also runs a radioactive waste dump in Texas that has clashed with
environmental regulators over its proximity to a nearby aquifer. He controls
Waste Control Specialists, which has contracts to clean up federal hazardous
waste sites, including emissions from other companies he controls.
¶Peter Thiel, a co-founder of PayPal and an outspoken libertarian, gave $2.6
million to Ron Paul’s PAC. In 2009, he wrote that the 1920s were the last decade
when one could be optimistic about American politics, lamenting the subsequent
rise of the welfare state that he blamed in part on giving women the right to
¶Foster Friess, who gave $1 million to Rick Santorum’s Red White and Blue PAC,
is a mutual fund manager who recently declared that aspirin used to be an
effective contraceptive when women put it between their knees. He is a former
president of the Council for National Policy, a secretive club of some of the
country’s most powerful conservatives, which opposes unions, same-sex marriage
and government regulation.
In addition, six-figure checks were given to Mr. Romney by seven executives at
hedge funds or investment firms. Leaders of this industry are interested in
fewer regulations and a low tax rate for their type of income.
President Obama’s super PAC, Priorities USA Action, received only two
seven-figure checks last year, one from the Service Employees International
Union for $1 million, and one from the movie executive Jeffrey Katzenberg for $2
million. (Mr. Katzenberg said last month that he was disappointed with Mr.
Obama’s opposition to antipiracy legislation but would continue to raise money
Until a few weeks ago, the president might have credibly campaigned against the
undue influence of special interests on his Republican rivals. He can no longer
make the case because, after his PAC received only $58,816 last month, Mr. Obama
invited donors to give without limits. And all but the most privileged Americans
will pay the price if the nation’s wealthiest can buy elections.
| Mon Apr 4, 2011
By Patricia Zengerle
(Reuters) - President Barack Obama is no longer the outsider candidate who
fueled his bid for the White House in 2008 with a flood of small donations from
new and young voters inspired by his message of hope and change.
As a sitting president he has far greater authority and media access and his
2012 re-election campaign is expected to raise $1 billion, which is
unprecedented in U.S. politics.
"In 2008, he was very much an insurgent candidate, somebody from out of nowhere
with a wholly different story. And the Obama campaign was as much a crusade as
it was a traditional campaign for president," said Christopher Arterton, a
professor of political management at George Washington University who has also
been a Democratic consultant.
With early polls showing Obama leading potential Republican rivals, he is
expected to announce this week he will run for re-election and file campaign
papers with the Federal Election Commission as early as Monday.
That would allow him to start campaign fund-raising and much of his war chest is
expected to come from the kind of big-money donations he has criticized in the
This time, the former Illinois senator is no longer the fresh political face
seeking to become the first black U.S. president. His 2012 campaign will be a
bigger, slicker machine likely to dwarf that of his eventual Republican
Aides note the huge number of individual donors who gave to Obama's campaign --
a record 4 million. But only 25 percent of the money came from small donors who
gave $200 or less, according to the non-partisan Campaign Finance Institute in
Obama will inevitably lose many of the individual donors who backed him four
years ago, said Anthony Corrado, a professor of government at Colby College and
expert on campaign fundraising.
"That's something that we're not going to see this time around, that level of
excitement about the Obama candidacy that we saw last time, from people who are
not traditional donors or traditional Democratic primary voters," he said.
Obama amassed a record $750 million as he surged to victory in 2008. His 2012
campaign total is expected to hit $1 billion or more, even without a major
Democratic primary opponent or the emergence of a strong Republican contender.
"It's definitely within reach, as he raised three quarters of a billion last
time. As the incumbent president it's quite plausible to imagine him raising $1
billion," said CFI Executive Director Michael Malbin.
Jim Messina, a former White House deputy chief of staff who will run Obama's,
has been telling big supporters they will need to collect $350,000 each. His
campaign headquarters will be in Chicago will be staffed with White House
Obama made his message clear on Tuesday at a $30,800-plate fund-raiser at a
popular New York restaurant.
"I could not do what I do ... if I didn't know that I had a lot of people out
there rooting for me and a lot of friends supporting me," Obama told donors at
the dinner, which raised $1.5 million for the Democratic National Committee.
Although he has received boost from the recovering economy, Obama's approval
ratings could easily fall if the Libya war drags on and gas prices stay high, or
if voters blame him for the huge U.S. budget deficit.
"The reality of governing means that he cannot now be all things to all people.
He has a record," said Meredith McGehee of the Campaign Legal Center, a
Washington non-profit group focused on campaign finance and ethics issues.
Obama has railed against a Supreme Court decision last year that removed
restrictions on corporate and union campaign spending and Democrats say the
decision opened the floodgates for special interest money in politics.
While experts expect the ruling to benefit Republicans more than Democrats,
given corporate displeasure with Obama's laws to overhaul the U.S. healthcare
industry and put tighter regulations on big banks, Democrats will also cash in.
"It's unrealistic to ask candidates to forego this money, when by definition, if
you do what you think should be done, you are going to lose," McGehee said.
An effective Obama fund-raising effort could help the Democratic Party, which
lost control of the House of Representatives to Republicans and has a smaller
majority in the Senate after last November's congressional elections.
Obama gave millions from his campaign war chest to Congressional candidates in
Every seat in the House will be up for grabs again in 2012, as well as one-third
of the seats in the Senate, and many experts say the battle for Congress --
particularly for the Senate -- could be the real fight.
Republican donors will be even more focused on Congress if their party cannot
find a presidential candidate with a real chance of defeating Obama and some
have admitted it will be difficult to deny Obama a second term.
Karl Rove, a strategist whose Crossroad GPS plans to help raise $120 million for
Republican candidates, was quoted as saying Obama should be considered the
More recently, a Republican operative reflected on his party's lack of any
strong White House contender, and quipped: "Obama could win if he raises only
December 5, 2008
The New York Times
By MICHAEL LUO
President-elect Barack Obama brought in nearly $750 million for his
presidential campaign, a record amount that exceeds what all of the candidates
combined collected in private donations in the previous race for the White
House, according to a report filed Thursday with the Federal Election
Underscoring the success of his fund-raising, Mr. Obama reported that he had
nearly $30 million in the bank as of Nov. 24, despite spending furiously at the
end of his campaign.
Mr. Obama, who became the first major-party nominee to bypass public financing
since the system began in the 1970s, spent more than $136 million from Oct. 16
to Nov. 24, the period covered in the report. By comparison, his Republican
opponent, Senator John McCain, who was limited to the $84 million allotted to
him from the Treasury under public financing, spent $26.5 million during that
time, according to his latest campaign finance report. Although Mr. McCain had
$4 million left over, he had $4.9 million in debt, the report said.
Mr. Obama reported taking in $104 million in contributions. Assuming most of
that money came in before Election Day, Nov. 4, it appears his fund-raising
stepped up significantly as the campaign drew to a close. In the first half of
October, he raised just $36 million.
An exact figure is difficult to calculate because of vagaries in the way
fund-raising numbers are reported. But it appears that Mr. Obama raised over
$300 million for the general election alone — more than triple what Mr. McCain
had at his disposal from public financing.
When Mr. Obama decided after he clinched the Democratic nomination to forgo
public financing, campaign officials said they needed to raise at least twice as
much as they would receive in public money, with a goal of raising three times
as much, to make it worth the added time away from campaigning that he needed to
devote to fund-raising.
Mr. Obama’s fund-raising total — fueled by both small donors giving incremental
amounts online and large donors who were wined and dined and given the chance to
mingle with him — appeared to more than validate his campaign’s gamble.
Indeed, it could very well mark the epitaph to the public financing system,
which critics have long declared is badly in need of updating to stay relevant
in presidential elections.
At a minimum, it sets an imposing bar for any potential Republican challenger to
Mr. Obama in 2012.
“Assuming Obama runs again and his fund-raising prowess is sustained, then it
will be a daunting undertaking for any opponent,” said Kenneth Gross, a campaign
finance lawyer at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.
In one illustration of the scope of Mr. Obama’s fund-raising haul, all the
candidates running for president in 2004, including President Bush and Senator
John Kerry, the Democratic nominee, together collected less than $650 million,
not counting the money received under public financing during the primary and
the general elections, according to Federal Election Commission figures.
Mr. McCain collected less than $220 million for the campaign’s primary phase,
compared with the more than $410 million that Mr. Obama did in that period.
In the final two months of the race, the Obama campaign spent nearly $170
million on television advertising, compared with $61 million by the McCain
campaign, according to the Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks
Mr. McCain had hoped that money raised by the Republican National Committee,
which was able to spend on his behalf under certain restrictions, could help
compensate for his financial disparity with Mr. Obama. But the R.N.C. only spent
another $31 million on advertising, which left Mr. McCain still facing a large
deficit on television.
Obama officials said their final tally of individual contributors surpassed 3.95
million, including 547,000 new contributors in the period covered by their
latest finance report.
It is unclear what Mr. Obama plans to do with the leftover money. In 2004, when
Mr. Kerry reported that he had more than $14 million remaining in his account
for the primaries, some Democratic officials reacted in anger and disbelief that
he had not spent all of his resources. Kerry officials said they had reserved
some money to pay for a recount or legal challenges.
That type of second-guessing is less likely this time because Mr. Obama won. He
has several options for his remaining cash, Mr. Gross said, like transferring it
to the Democratic National Committee or another party committee, or rolling it
over to his 2012 re-election campaign.
What is not an option for Mr. Obama is to help Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton
with paying off the debt from her campaign for the Democratic presidential
According to reports filed last month, Mrs. Clinton is still struggling to
retire about $7.5 million, and she faces fund-raising constraints should
Congress approve her as secretary of state in the Obama administration. Mr.
Gross said the most the Obama campaign could transfer to her was $2,000.
Filed at 11:49 a.m. ET
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
(AP) -- What's your vote worth? Because Barack Obama and John McCain can spend
about $8 to get it.
Together, the two presidential candidates have amassed nearly $1 billion -- a
stratospheric number in a campaign of record-shattering money numbers. Depending
on turnout, $1 billion means nearly $8 for every presidential vote, compared
with $5.50 in 2004.
And that's just McCain and Obama. All the presidential candidates in the
2007-2008 contest took in $1.55 billion, nearly twice the amount collected by
candidates in 2004 and three times the amount from 2000. The total includes
fundraising for the primaries as well as the general election.
Using all that cash, the candidates have traveled more miles, employed more
workers and advertised more than ever.
But it has been Obama, with his $641 million and 3.2 million donors, who has
rewritten the rules for financing campaigns.
He abandoned the public financing system -- after pledging to participate if
McCain did -- and became the first major party candidate to raise private funds
to pay for a general election since the campaign money reforms of the Watergate
era. McCain did take public funds, but Obama's success left little doubt that
taxpayer-supported presidential campaigns, as currently configured, are 20th
Neither Obama nor McCain participated in public financing during the primaries.
McCain's acceptance of $84 million in general election public financing also
came with limitations on spending. He continued to raise money for the
Republican Party, though, which so far has spent about $100 million on his
behalf to supplement his public funds.
Obama mastered new technology, turning the Internet into an incredible political
networking tool and attracting record numbers of donors giving less than $200.
While that flood of money raised new questions about the safeguards of Internet
fundraising, it also helped dilute the role of big money donors and fundraisers.
''When you have that many contributors, I think it does, in a weird way, cleanse
the system even though it seems like that much more money,'' the Federal
Election Commission chairman, Republican Donald F. McGahn II, said recently.
''That many more contributors disperse the influence of any one contributor.''
Some of the financial highlights from the presidential campaign:
The total is almost the same as what the Federal Trade Commission says food and
beverage companies spend in a year marketing their products to children.
--Selling politics like burgers: With all that money, Obama has blanketed the
country with his message. As of mid-October, he had spent $240 million on
broadcast ads to penetrate old battlegrounds and to help create new ones. He
spent $77 million in the first two weeks of October, more than McDonald's spends
on ads in a month. He pinpointed audiences with ads on such video games as
''Guitar Hero'' and ''Madden NFL 09.''
He also went global, with national network advertising that culminated with a $4
million-plus half hour buy on prime time six days before the election. His
spending stretched McCain's resources; the Republican had spent about $116
million as of mid-October.
--Bad apple, bad money: Some fundraisers put campaigns in awkward situations.
Barack Obama donated to charity tens of thousands of dollars in donations to his
past campaigns that were linked to convicted Chicago developer Antoin ''Tony''
Rezko. Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton returned more than $800,000 to
donors whose contributions were linked to Norman Hsu, a fundraiser who was
wanted in California on charges of bilking investors. Hsu was subsequently
indicted in New York on federal charges of fraud and violating campaign finance
--Bundle up some cold hard cash: Perfecting a fundraising practice initially
mastered by George W. Bush, presidential candidates enlisted fundraisers to
raise thousands upon thousands of dollars for them. These are the well-connected
money people to whom a campaign is ultimately indebted. Both McCain and Obama
list their fundraisers -- or bundlers, as they are known -- on their Web sites.
McCain's are easier to find than Obama's. But unlike McCain, Obama lists the
fundraisers' home towns.
--Who are those small donors, anyway: Obama has raised about half of his money
in increments of $200 or less. The average contribution is $86, the campaign
says. But the success of the Internet fundraising effort has also led to some
puzzling donors. Individuals have been credited with giving tens of thousands of
dollars to the Obama campaign, far more than the $2,300 limit. Obama has
reported more than $17,000 in contributions from a donor identified as ''Doodad
Pro'' and more than $11,000 from one identified as ''Good Will.''
''I wouldn't be surprised if the FEC doesn't address this in the next couple of
years -- what you have to put on your Web site for soliciting contributions,''
said Bradley A. Smith, a former FEC chairman and a law professor at Capital
University Law School in Columbus, Ohio.
--I show mine, you don't show yours: Federal law requires candidates to identify
only those donors who contribute, in the aggregate, more than $200. But McCain
has made his entire donor database available through his Web site. Obama has
not, drawing criticism.
October 21, 2008
The New York Times
By MICHAEL LUO and GRIFF PALMER
Much of the attention on the record amounts of money coursing through the
presidential race this year, including in Senator Barack Obama’s announcement on
Sunday of his $150 million fund-raising haul in September, has focused on the
explosion of small donors.
But there has been another proliferation on the national fund-raising landscape
that was not fully apparent until the latest campaign finance reports were filed
last week: people who have given tens of thousands of dollars at a time to help
Enabled by the fine print in campaign finance laws, they have written checks
that far exceed normal individual contribution limits to candidates, to joint
fund-raising committees that benefit the candidates as well as their respective
Many of these large donors come from industries with interests in Washington. A
New York Times analysis of donors who wrote checks of $25,000 or more to the
candidates’ main joint fund-raising committees found, for example, the biggest
portion of money for both candidates came from the securities and investments
industry, including executives at various firms embroiled in the recent
financial crisis like Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers and AIG.
The joint fund-raising committees have been utilized far more heavily this
presidential election than in the past. Mr. Obama’s campaign has leaned on
wealthy benefactors to contribute up to $33,100 at a time to complement his army
of small donors over the Internet as he bypassed public financing for the
general election. More than 600 donors contributed $25,000 or more to him in
September alone, roughly three times the number who did the same for Senator
And Mr. McCain’s campaign, which had not disclosed most of these donors until
last week, has taken the concept to new levels, encouraging deep-pocketed
supporters to write checks of more than $70,000, by adding state parties as
beneficiaries of his fund-raising.
All told, each candidate has had about 2,000 people give $25,000 or more to his
various joint fund-raising committees through September.
“What we’re seeing is an emphasis on the high-end check that we have not seen
since the days of soft money,” said Anthony J. Corrado Jr., a campaign finance
expert at Colby College in Maine.
The Times examination of donors who wrote checks of $25,000 or more through
September found some notable differences in the industries from which Mr. Obama
and Mr. McCain drew their largest contributions.
Compared with Mr. Obama, Mr. McCain drew a slightly larger percentage of his
big-donor money from the financial industry, about a fifth of his total. The
next biggest amount in large checks for Mr. McCain came from real estate and
then donors who identified themselves as retired. With his emphasis on offshore
drilling, Mr. McCain has also enjoyed heavy support from generous benefactors in
the oil and gas industry, a group Mr. Obama drew relatively little from.
After the financial arena, Mr. Obama drew the most in checks of $25,000 or more
from retirees and lawyers — Mr. McCain collected significantly less in large
donations from lawyers — followed by those in real estate.
Mr. Obama also drew a significant amount from big givers in the entertainment
industry, who contributed relatively little to Mr. McCain. In contrast,
donations from the private equity and hedge fund industries accounted for a
significantly greater amount of the giving from Mr. McCain’s largest donors,
compared with Mr. Obama’s.
Certain companies were especially generous to a particular candidate. Three top
executives of Merrill Lynch, for example, wrote checks of $28,500 each to Mr.
McCain; among them was the chief executive, John A. Thain. A dozen employees at
Goldman Sachs wrote checks of $25,000 or more to Mr. Obama.
Donations to these joint fund-raising committees have surged this election
cycle, taking in nearly $300 million this year through September — with Mr.
McCain collecting slightly more than Mr. Obama — compared with $69 million in
2004. Campaign finance watchdogs call it a worrisome trend, saying the heavy
emphasis on such arrangements brings candidates one step further into the
embrace of major donors.
“This is subverting the whole notion of candidate contribution limits,” said
Steve Weissman, associate director for policy at the Campaign Finance Institute.
Individuals are normally limited to contributing $2,300 to presidential
candidates for the primary and another $2,300 for the general election. But the
joint fund-raising committees allow donors to enjoy the clout that comes with
writing a single large check that can cover the maximum contributions to the
candidates, as well as $28,500 to the national party. In Mr. McCain’s case, that
check could also include $10,000 apiece for several state parties and $2,300 to
a legal compliance fund for the general election. The money directed to the
national and state parties can then be used to help the candidates under certain
More than 1,800 people had donated $25,000 or more as of the end of September to
Mr. McCain through his various “victory” committees, according to Federal
Election Commission filings and data compiled by Public Citizen, a nonpartisan
watchdog group. More than 300 people had contributed $50,000 or more.
As for Mr. Obama, about 2,000 people had donated $25,000 or more to his joint
fund-raising committees through September, including more than 500 who have
given $30,000 or more.
McCain finance officials introduced their main joint fund-raising committee,
McCain Victory 2008, in the spring. Mr. McCain was still able to accept primary
money, so money was divided between his primary campaign coffers, the Republican
National Committee, several state parties and his compliance fund, for a maximum
check of $70,100.
Mr. McCain is now taking public financing for the general election, but he has
continued to raise money through his joint fund-raising committees, something
that frustrates campaign finance watchdogs, because they argue that a goal of
public financing is to get candidates out of the private money-raising business.
“It undermines the whole spirit of the system,” said David Arkush, director of
Congress Watch at Public Citizen.
Indeed, Mr. McCain collected $10.6 million just last week for the Republican
Party at an event in New York he headlined with his running mate, Gov. Sarah
Palin of Alaska.
The largest donors typically get V.I.P. treatment at fund-raisers, including
dinner and a photo with the candidate.
Gordon V. Smith, a Maryland home builder, and his wife, Helen, gave $67,800 each
to Mr. McCain this year and attended a fund-raiser at the Ritz-Carlton in Tysons
Corner, Va. Mr. Smith was later invited to an intimate dinner for major donors
with Rick Davis, the McCain campaign manager. Mr. Smith, who said he was a
staunch believer in free enterprise, called the meeting a “stroke” for big
donors but said he had had a chance to offer some policy ideas. “Will the
campaign talk to any donor? Even if you give 10 bucks, they’ll talk to you, but
you might talk to a volunteer,” he said.
Arguably the biggest whales of all are the several dozen who contributed $70,000
or more to Mr. McCain. They included Marvin Gilliam, an executive at Cumberland
Resources, a Virginia coal-mining company where several top officials made
sizable contributions to Mr. McCain, as well as Mr. Gilliam’s wife, Marcia; Joe
Ricketts, founder of the securities firm TD Ameritrade; and Meg Whitman, former
chief executive of eBay and a prominent McCain surrogate, who contributed a
total of $92,400, according to F.E.C. records, although some will apparently
need to be refunded because of federal contribution limits.
The Obama Victory Fund funnels money to his campaign coffers and the Democratic
National Committee. The largest check a donor could write for the primary and
the general elections was $33,100. Mr. Obama also has a separate committee that
distributes money to 18 battleground states.
More than 500 donors contributed more than $30,000 each to Mr. Obama. They
included James E. Rogers, chief executive of Duke Energy, a power company based
in Charlotte, N.C.; Melanie Griffith, the actress; and John M. Noel, chief
executive of Travel Guard, an affiliate of the insurance giant AIG.
October 20, 2008
The New York Times
By MICHAEL LUO
Senator Barack Obama’s announcement on Sunday of his record-shattering $150
million fund-raising total for September underscored just how much his campaign
has upended standards for raising money in presidential campaigns.
His campaign has now raised more than $600 million, almost equaling what all the
candidates from both major parties collected in private donations in 2004.
It is a remarkable ascent to previously unimagined financial heights — Mr.
Obama’s September total more than doubled the record $66 million he collected in
August — that has been cheered by some and decried by others concerned about the
influence of money in politics. The impact on the way presidential campaigns are
financed is likely to be profound, potentially providing an epitaph on the
tombstone of the existing public finance system.
Campaign finance watchdog groups said Sunday that Mr. Obama’s September haul
bolstered their arguments for the need to revamp the presidential public
financing system to restore its relevancy. It is an effort that has recently
faltered in Congress.
Democrats, though, may be reluctant to surrender the significant money-raising
advantage they have developed over Republicans, saying that Mr. Obama, by
cultivating millions of small donors over the Internet, has built what amounts
to a parallel public financing system that is arguably more democratic.
“I think there’s going to be a fight inside the Democratic Party on this,” said
David Donnelly, a director of Campaign Money Watch, a watchdog group.
In this election cycle, all of the major presidential candidates, except for
former Senator John Edwards, opted out of the public financing system for the
primary. Mr. Obama became the first major party candidate to bypass the public
money for the general election since the system began in the 1970s, backing away
from an earlier pledge to accept it if his opponent did as well. It was a move
the campaign of Senator John McCain and campaign finance watchdog groups harshly
But any effort to fix the system would be complicated by loopholes that permit
wealthy individuals and moneyed interests to exert outsize influence, including
through 527 groups, which can accept unlimited contributions.
“If you locked me up in a room and said, ‘You fix it,’ I’m not sure there is a
way,” said Joe Trippi, the former campaign manager for Howard Dean’s
presidential campaign in 2004 and a senior adviser for Mr. Edwards in the
Democratic primary last year.
Tad Devine, a former senior strategist for Senator John F. Kerry’s presidential
campaign in 2004, said there were plenty of arguments that what Mr. Obama had
done was healthy for the democratic process.
“What we’re going to have to figure out,” Mr. Devine said, “is why this is not
only good for the Democratic Party but it’s good for the country.”
An examination of Mr. Obama’s intake in September lends credence to arguments by
both sides. David Plouffe, the Obama campaign manager, said in a video message
sent to supporters that Mr. Obama had 632,000 new donors in September, bringing
the campaign’s total to 3.1 million. The average contribution, Mr. Plouffe said,
was less than $100.
The full details of how the Obama campaign raised its money in September will
not be available until Monday, when it files its official report with the
Federal Election Commission. But a separate filing by the Obama Victory Fund,
which is the campaign’s joint fund-raising operation with the Democratic
National Committee, underscores that Mr. Obama has also been powered by major
donors, many of them with interests in Washington, as well.
Mr. Obama’s joint money-raising committee, which can take in checks of more than
$30,000 that are divided between the campaign and the D.N.C., collected $69
million in September. The fund funneled $32 million in September to the Obama
campaign’s coffers and $26.5 million to the national committee.
The D.N.C., which can spend money on Mr. Obama’s behalf with certain
restrictions, announced Sunday it collected nearly $50 million in September and
had $27.4 million in cash on hand at the end of the month.
Coupled with his appeals to small donors over the Internet, Mr. Obama has
maintained an aggressive, high-dollar fund-raising schedule. More than 600
people wrote checks of $25,000 or more to the Obama Victory Fund in September.
They included Dwight Howard, the Orlando Magic basketball star; Andrea Jung, the
chief executive of Avon; Gregory Brown, president of Motorola; and Charles E.
Phillips Jr., president of Oracle.
McCain finance officials and other campaign finance experts initially
anticipated that the Republican National Committee’s stockpile of cash and
strong fund-raising, along with the $84 million Mr. McCain received in public
financing, might be enough to stay within range of the Obama financial
The R.N.C. announced this month that it raised $66 million in September, which
exceeded fund-raisers’ expectations, and officials said it had finished the
month with about $77 million in the bank. But the Obama campaign has been
outspending the McCain campaign on television by three-and-a-half-to-one, even
with spending by the R.N.C. factored in, according to the Campaign Media
Analysis Group, which analyzes advertising spending.
Senator Barack Obama’s campaign announced on Sunday that it had raised more
than $150 million in September, a record-shattering amount underscoring again
the unprecedented amounts of money he has attracted.
Mr. Obama’s contributions in September more than doubled the $66 million he had
collected in August, which had already far exceeded what previous presidential
campaigns had raised in a single month.
In a videotaped message included in an e-mail to supporters, David Plouffe, the
Obama campaign manager, said that Mr. Obama had added 632,000 new donors in
September, bringing the campaign’s total to 3.1 million. The average
contribution, Mr. Plouffe said, was $86.
Mr. Plouffe said the money has enabled the campaign to expand to traditional
Republican strongholds, noting it had begun to pour resources into West
Virginia. He also sought to portray the campaign’s fund-raising success as
evidence of Mr. Obama’s grassroots support.
“The two groups that have given us the most contributions are retirees and
students, which shows how Barack’s call for change has spanned the generations,”
Mr. Plouffe said. “Nurses, teachers, small business owners. It really is the
fabric of America that has built this campaign.”
The full details of how the Obama campaign raised its money in September will
not be available until Monday, when it files its official report with the
Federal Election Commission. But a separate filing by the campaign’s joint
fund-raising committee with the Democratic National Committee, the Obama Victory
Fund, underscores that Mr. Obama has also been powered by major donors as well.
Mr. Obama’s joint fund-raising committee, which can take in checks of more than
$30,000 that is divvied up between the campaign and the D.N.C., collected $69
million in September. The fund funneled $32 million in September to the Obama
campaign’s coffers and $26.5 million to the D.N.C.
The D.N.C., which can spend money on Mr. Obama’s behalf under certain
restrictions, announced this morning it collected nearly $50 million in
September and had $27.4 million in cash on hand at the end of the month.
The Republican National Committee announced earlier this month it had raised $66
million in September, which had exceeded fundraisers’ expectations, and finished
the month with about $77 million in the bank.
Mr. Obama’s fund-raising success comes in the wake of his decision to back away
from an earlier pledge to accept public financing for the general election if
his opponent did as well, a move the McCain campaign has sought to use against
McCain finance officials and other campaign-finance experts had anticipated that
the R.N.C.’s stockpile of cash and strong fund-raising, along with the $84
million Mr. McCain received in public financing, would be enough to at least
stay within range of the Obama fund-raising juggernaut. The R.N.C. finished
August with $76 million in the bank, along with another $18 million transferred
to it by the McCain campaign. But the Obama campaign has been outspending the
McCain campaign by 4 to 1 on television, according to Campaign Media Analysis
Group, which analyzes ad spending. The R.N.C. is limited to spending about $19
million in coordination with the McCain campaign but can spend unlimited amounts
independently. Even with the R.N.C.’s independent expenditures factored in, the
Obama campaign is still outspending Mr. McCain by 3 ½ to 1, according to CMAG.
Coupled with his appeals over the Internet, Mr. Obama has maintained an
aggressive high-dollar fund-raising schedule. Just last week, 10 hours after he
left the stage of the final presidential debate, he arrived at a morning
fund-raiser at the Metropolitan Club in New York in which more than 120 people
paid $30,800 each to hear him speak.
More than 600 people wrote checks of $25,000 or more to the Obama Victory Fund
in September, including the actresses Melanie Griffith and Rita Wilson; Orlando
Magic basketball star Dwight Howard; Andrea Jung, the chief executive of Avon;
Gregory Brown, the president of the telecommunications giant Motorola; and
Charles E. Phillips Jr., the president of the software company Oracle.
Mr. Obama has now raised more than $600 million since his campaign began, easily
another record. Putting that figure in perspective, in 2004, Democratic and
Republican presidential candidates together raised a record $684 million by the
time of their conventions. (Both Senator John F. Kerry and President Bush later
opted for public financing for the general election). That was nearly double the
$350 million the candidates raised in 2000.
Before the Obama campaign, the record for the single biggest monthly
fund-raising month was held by Senator John F. Kerry, when he collected $44
million in March 2004 after clinching the Democratic nomination. Mr. Obama
exceeded that total last February, when he raised $55 million while competing
against Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.
PHILADELPHIA — Senator Barack Obama is days away from breaking the advertising
spending record set by President Bush in the general election four years ago,
having unleashed an advertising campaign of a scale and complexity unrivaled in
the television era.
With advertisements running repeatedly day and night, on local stations and on
the major broadcast networks, on niche cable networks and even on video games
and his own dedicated satellite channels, Mr. Obama is now outadvertising
Senator John McCain nationwide by a ratio of at least four to one, according to
CMAG, a service that monitors political advertising. That difference is even
larger in several closely contested states.
The huge gap has been made possible by Mr. Obama’s decision to opt out of the
federal campaign finance system, which gives presidential nominees $84 million
in public money and prohibits them from spending any amount above that from
their party convention to Election Day. Mr. McCain is participating in the
system. Mr. Obama, who at one point promised to participate in it as well, is
expected to announce in the next few days that he raised more than $100 million
in September, a figure that would shatter fund-raising records.
“This is uncharted territory,” said Kenneth M. Goldstein, the director of the
Advertising Project at the University of Wisconsin. “We’ve certainly seen heavy
advertising battles before. But we’ve never seen in a presidential race one side
having such a lopsided advantage.”
While Mr. Obama has held a spending advantage throughout the general election
campaign, his television dominance has become most apparent in the last few
weeks. He has gone on a buying binge of television time that has allowed him to
swamp Mr. McCain’s campaign with concurrent lines of positive and negative
messages. Mr. Obama’s advertisements come as Republicans have begun a blitz of
automated telephone calls attacking him.
The Obama campaign’s advertising approach — which has included advertisements up
to two minutes long in which Mr. Obama lays out his agenda and even
advertisements in video games like “Guitar Hero” — has helped mask some of Mr.
Obama’s rougher attacks on his rival.
“What Obama is doing is being his own good cop and bad cop,” said Evan Tracey,
the chief operating officer of CMAG, who called the advertising war “a blowout”
in Mr. Obama’s favor.
Based on his current spending, CMAG predicts Mr. Obama’s general election
advertising campaign will surpass the $188 million Mr. Bush spent in his 2004
campaign by early next week. Mr. McCain has spent $91 million on advertising
since he clinched his party’s nomination, several months before Mr. Obama
The size of the disparity has even surprised aides to Mr. McCain, who traded
accusations with Mr. Obama over the advertising battle in this week’s debate,
with Mr. Obama telling Mr. McCain that “your ads, 100 percent of them have been
negative” and Mr. McCain saying that “Senator Obama has spent more money on
negative ads than any political campaign in history.”
The most recent analysis of the presidential advertisements by the University of
Wisconsin, based on the period from Sept. 28 through Oct. 4, found that nearly
100 percent of Mr. McCain’s commercials included an attack on Mr. Obama and that
34 percent of Mr. Obama’s advertisements, which were more focused that week on
promoting his agenda, included an attack on Mr. McCain.
That finding reflected the McCain campaign’s strategy of trying to make Mr.
Obama an unacceptable choice in the eyes of undecided voters and Mr. Obama’s
goal of making undecided voters comfortable with him.
But the Wisconsin Advertising Project says that since Mr. Obama wrapped up the
Democratic nomination in June, 54 percent of Mr. McCain’s advertisements have
been completely focused on attacking him, roughly a quarter have mixed criticism
of Mr. Obama with a positive message about Mr. McCain, and 20 percent have been
devoted solely to promoting Mr. McCain.
In the same period, the study found that 41 percent of Mr. Obama’s
advertisements had been devoted solely to attacking Mr. McCain, one-fifth mixed
criticism of Mr. McCain with a positive message about Mr. Obama, and 38 percent
were solely devoted to promoting Mr. Obama.
The group reported that Mr. Obama has also had several weeks in which his
advertising was nearly 100 percent negative or contrast advertisements, though
considerably fewer such weeks than Mr. McCain has had.
The percentages do not reflect the vastly greater number of spots run by Mr.
Obama. But Mr. Goldstein said Mr. McCain had shown more purely negative
advertisements than Mr. Obama had, in spite of Mr. Obama’s spending advantage.
Here in Philadelphia, the biggest media market in a critical state, both
candidates showed a mix of positive and negative advertisements on Friday. The
spots seemed to show up across the dial as regularly as the affable Geico gecko
or the ambling ne’er-do-wells of FreeCreditReport.com.
During “Dr. Phil” on the CBS affiliate here, Mr. Obama showed a minute-long
positive commercial recounting “one of my earliest memories: going with
Grandfather to see some of the astronauts, being brought back after a
splashdown, sitting on his shoulders and waving a little American flag.”
But minutes earlier during the late afternoon news on the NBC station, Mr. Obama
had criticized Mr. McCain over a health care plan that an announcer alleges
“could leave you hanging by a thread.”
Toward the end of the 4 p.m. newscast on the CBS station, Mr. McCain ran one of
his rare purely positive spots, speaking directly into the camera and telling
viewers, “The last eight years haven’t worked very well, have they?” He
promises, “I have a plan for a new direction for the economy.”
But on the NBC affiliate an advertisement approved by Mr. McCain was tying Mr.
Obama to Antoin Rezko, a Chicago real estate developer convicted of fraud who is
listed as among the friends Mr. Obama is said to reward “with your tax dollars.”
That spot was co-sponsored by the Republican National Committee, which is
allowed to split the costs with Mr. McCain on an unlimited number of
advertisements, helping him to double the number of advertisements he can buy.
Mr. McCain has used such advertisements to keep up with Mr. Obama’s advertising
in vital cities like this one, where the campaigns have combined to spend the
most in the general election but where Mr. Obama has recently outpaced Mr.
McCain by nearly two to one. But such advertisements come with a caveat: they
must include a reference to Congressional issues and leaders, making the message
generally less direct.
The spot with Mr. Rezko also shows the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi of
California, and Representative Barney Frank of Massachusetts.
But for every city like Philadelphia, in a state Mr. McCain views as important
to his chances for victory, there are those like Miami, Washington and Chicago,
where Mr. Obama has often been able to run advertisements nearly unopposed.
Washington and Chicago are particularly expensive, and Mr. Obama will easily win
both. But their stations reach parts of the contested states of Indiana and
Mr. McCain is also getting help from the Republican Party’s independent
advertising unit, but it cannot coordinate with the party leadership or Mr.
McCain’s campaign, meaning it is not always in line with Mr. McCain’s campaign
message. And a smattering of outside groups are running hard-charging
advertisements against Mr. Obama, but he has the money to immediately meet those
attacks with spots directly addressing their charges.
Now spending almost as much as he can in local television markets, Mr. Obama has
increased his advertising on the broadcast television networks, including on
National Football League games and soap operas.
“They’re doing the networks” said Mr. Tracey, of CMAG, “because they’ve
saturated these markets and they’re looking for more time.”
Last Sunday, Mr. Obama bought so heavily on football games and other nationally
televised programs that, according to CMAG, he spent $6.5 million on a day when
Mr. McCain spent less than $1 million.