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.
Obama’s pursuit continues full speed this week. He went to Connecticut on Monday for two donor gatherings, including a $35,800-per-person affair at the Westport estate of movie executive Harvey Weinstein. The fundraisers are expected to generate about $2.5 million. He will have donor events Tuesday and Wednesday in Colorado, followed by weekend fundraisers in Chicago, including one at his home.
“Over the next three months, the other side will spend more money than ever,” Obama said Monday evening at a Stamford hotel reception. “Their economic theory won’t sell, so their ads will say the same thing over and over: Economy’s not doing well, and it’s all Obama’s fault.”
Romney’s quest for campaign cash has taken him far off the trail to both solid-blue and solid-red states. At seven events in California on July 22 and 23, Romney raised a combined $10 million. A week earlier, he collected $2 million in Louisiana hosting a lunch with Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) and brought in more than $1.7 million in Jackson, Miss., on the same night. He hosted three events in the Hamptons in New York and two in Wyoming featuring former vice president Richard B. Cheney.
“More candidate time is being spent on fundraising in this presidential election than we’ve ever seen before,” said Michael Toner, who was general counsel for George W. Bush’s 2000 campaign and an outside lawyer for John McCain’s 2008 bid. “We have a 50-50 nation, and every couple million dollars that you have on hand in October could be the difference in Ohio or Florida or any of these swing states.”
Toner added: “In the old days, there would be relatively few fundraising events in the August-to-October time frame. Those days are over.”
Obama was a fundraising colossus in 2008 as he transfixed the country with his historic campaign, raising a record $750 million, including $150 million in September. But the terrain has changed dramatically for the incumbent, and some major Democrats are reconciled to the reality that he will be outspent this fall, possibly by a significant margin.
“There’s just too much money on the other side for the Democrats to close the gap,” said Democratic National Committee vice chairman Donna Brazile. “We’ll have enough to compete, but [the Republicans] will flood the airwaves with misleading advertising.”
Speaking with reporters on Air Force One on Monday, Obama spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki repeated the campaign’s emphasis on the 98 percent of its donations that were $250 or less — meaning that those donors are under the limit and can continue to contribute.
She acknowledged the long-standing expectation that the president will be outraised but said that the Democrats’ heavy investment in field offices, staff and other infrastructure will be more important in the long run.
“Our focus is on ensuring we have the resources, the tools, to create and build the biggest grass-roots campaign in history,” Psaki said.
For the Romney camp, the fundraising numbers were the one good news story it had to show for a bumpy July. The campaign and its two combined fundraising committees had $185.9 million in the bank at the end of the month; Obama’s team did not announce a cash-on-hand figure.
At the start of July, Romney had $170 million on hand, compared with $144 million for Obama, whose campaign has spent heavily on ads. Just three months before, Obama had a $90 million edge in cash on hand.
“Once again, we see that for many people, this is more than a campaign, it is a cause,” said Spencer Zwick, chairman of Romney’s fundraising effort. “We are honored to have the support of a broad spectrum of donors — independents, Democrats and Republicans — whose support of Governor Romney shows that he has the needed plan to jump-start our economy and get the country on the right track again.”
David Nakamura and Felicia Sonmez contributed to this report.