The figures reflect an unprecedented fundraising intensity that has altered the nature of the presidential race. Each candidate devoted a majority of his July events to collecting money, placing each in contact with smaller, elite groups of donors more often than larger public gatherings of voters.
The campaign will continue to look different: With both candidates opting out of accepting federal funds for the post-convention race, as Obama did in 2008, the money chase will probably extend deep into the fall. And the candidates are increasingly holding intimate high-dollar events to raise money for their parties, often coupled with larger events in the same city to raise money for their campaigns.
“The fundraising never stops,” said Lawrence Norton, a campaign lawyer and former general counsel to the Federal Election Commission. “Presidential candidates need to spend a vast amount of time, typically at several events a day, raising money and calling donors. I don’t know that any of them have a tremendous stomach for it, but they have to do it.”
The latest totals don’t reflect the vast sums raised by a constellation of outside groups, which are technically independent but aligned with the campaigns. Republican third-party groups, including super PACs, outspent Democratic groups nine to one on broadcast television in July, according to Kantar Media/CMAG. The two leading super PACs supporting Romney had $53 million in the bank at the end of June, compared with less than $3 million for the leading pro-Obama PAC, according to FEC reports.
The spending has triggered questions about voter saturation, whether the relentless ad wars in swing states could backfire and the millions of dollars each campaign will spend to sway a relatively small number of undecided voters.
The zeal to keep the cash flowing is evidenced most vividly in the campaigns’ daily schedules, which reflect increasing claims on their most precious resource: the candidates’ time.
Obama’s July schedule showed that he attended 21 campaign fundraisers, compared with 17 campaign-themed public events, usually speeches. Romney held twice as many fundraisers as campaign events in July, attending at least 22 gatherings with contributors.
When the president leaves the White House to meet voters, his speech or other grass-roots event is almost always preceded or followed by a private gathering for wealthy donors. On July 25, a fairly representative day, Obama gave an address via telephone to the national convention of the International Association of Fire Fighters, who were meeting in Philadelphia, then he continued to New Orleans for two fundraisers, followed by an address to the National Urban League convention at the city’s Morial Center.