Ed and I may need an accountant from the mythical firm of Sarbanes-Oxley to settle our dispute about who has raised more money: President Obama or Mitt Romney. Ed is correct that when you take into account all the major fundraising entities, the various committees of the two parties, the candidates’ direct fundraising and their allied super PACs, the Democratic totals outstrip the Republicans $771 million to $574 million by my count (these are rough numbers based on data from opensecrets.org.
But I think those totals give a misleading impression of the relative strength of the two candidates’ fundraising because not all political money is equal. Here is my hierarchy of political cash from most to least valuable or, better said, from most to least “deployable”:
1. The super PACs, assuming there is strong leadership and good consultants (check, for both sides)
2. The candidates’ committees.
3. The special-interest committees (the National Rifle Association, labor).
4. The party committees.
The best money in politics is the money that costs least to raise and that you control the most. Super PACs have essentially zero overhead because they collect money in massive chunks and about 90 percent of the money raised ends up being deployed for strategic purposes because there is little overhead. Candidate-specific committees have much higher fundraising costs and more of the money raised goes to the overhead costs of the campaign — but there is total control. The special-interest groups have low fundraising costs, but their strategy is in constant tension between helping a candidate strategically and pleasing their base. Party campaign committees are the least useful to individual presidential candidates. They have high fundraising costs, high overhead and they have to support the down-ballot races. The committees usually raise money by a “tally” system in which Senate and House candidates raise money for the committees with the understanding that it will be used for their benefit.
So using this hierarchy, how do the candidates stack up? Well, Romney’s super PAC has out-raised Obama’s by almost $40 million. This is a significant worry, one that I flagged months ago and one that the president is now trying to rectify. In the individual candidate committees, Obama has enjoyed a large advantage of over $80 million, but Romney is closing, raising more than Obama for the first time in May.
So, as it stands now, Romney is far ahead in the most “liquid” political money, the super PACs, and catching up in the next best category. So, yes, my audit still predicts Romney will have more useful money than Obama.