By Alec MacGillis and Sarah Cohen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, December 6, 2008
Republicans grappled yesterday with the final evidence of the enormous cash advantage President-elect Barack Obama's campaign had against Sen. John McCain: a fundraising machine that raised more than three-quarters of a billion dollars.
It was clear in the final weeks of the campaign that Obama was overwhelming McCain on the spending front, but the final round of campaign finance reports released late Thursday laid bare just how big the gap was.
From Oct. 15 onward, Obama and the Democratic National Committee spent $161.5 million, the vast majority of it raised by the campaign, while McCain and the Republicans spent $75.3 million. Obama's more than 2-to-1 advantage was buoyed by a late surge in contributions -- the campaign reported receiving $104 million after Oct. 15 -- bringing its total fundraising for the entire campaign to more than $750 million.
That is triple the amount raised in 2004 by President Bush, who held the previous record, before he accepted public financing for the general election. It also appeared to justify Obama's decision to forgo the $84 million he could have received in public financing, which would have forced him to cease accepting contributions after his party's national convention in August, as McCain chose to do. From September on, Obama and the Democrats spent about $380 million, while McCain and the Republicans spent about $195 million.
"It was a mind-boggling performance," said Michael Toner, a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission who served as general counsel for the Republican National Committee and for Bush's 2000 campaign. "There's just no getting around it: It's astonishing."
Toner said the silver lining for Republicans was their discovery of the power of "joint fundraising committees." The committees allow candidates and parties to hold fundraising events at which donors are bound by the $2,300 maximum in giving to the presidential candidate but can also give $28,500 to the party. For much of the summer, McCain held such events as a way to try to keep pace with the Obama juggernaut, although Obama began holding them, too.
But the final data were otherwise bleak for Republicans. In the second-to-last week of the campaign, for instance, Obama spent $21.5 million on television advertising, while the McCain campaign and Republicans together spent about $9 million, according to the Wisconsin Advertising Project. In the final week, Obama spent more than $25 million, according to Kenneth Goldstein, the project's director.
"That's more than a quarter of what McCain could spend on his entire campaign," Goldstein said. "If you look at all the swing states, it was a 3-to-1, 4-to-1, 5-to-1 advantage."
As strapped for money as the Republicans were, the latest records show that the McCain campaign spent more on outfitting running mate Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin than the $150,000 that initially caused outrage. The reports show that the Republican National Committee paid thousands more for what are labeled as "campaign accessories" for Palin.
Palin's makeup and hair stylists were together paid more than $100,000. The McCain campaign paid Amy Strozzi, an acclaimed makeup artist, more than $60,000 for her services in September, October and November. In addition, the campaign paid more than $30,000 to Angela Lew, who traveled with Palin to style her hair on the campaign trail.
Some of the spending for Lew and Strozzi was included in the original $150,000 spree. But added together, the campaign spent more than $200,000 for clothes, makeup and hair for Palin and her family.
The Obama campaign has said its money came from nearly 4 million donors -- as of mid-October, the campaign had raised more than $300 million in contributions of $200 or less, according to the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute. But the Obama campaign raised vast amounts through bigger donors, as well: more than $200 million in contributions of $1,000 or more before mid-October.
Obama's fundraising ability has many in Washington declaring the public financing system effectively null and void unless Congress vastly increases the amount of taxpayer money a candidate would receive by staying inside the system. But there is likely to be little motivation in a Democratic-dominated government to overhaul the rules that served Obama so well.
There is also talk of lowering the $200 threshold above which campaigns must disclose a donor's identity in response to irregularities among some of Obama's small donors.
But even if the spending limits for those accepting public money are raised, Obama will probably stick with his own formidable fundraising machine if he runs for reelection in 2012, said Vanderbilt University political scientist John G. Geer, and that will force Republicans thinking about running against him to offer themselves as candidates who also could go without public financing.
"When Republicans are evaluating their candidates, fundraising prowess is going to have to be even more important," he said. "If Bush was their gold standard for fundraising, they're going to need someone even better. It's going to be tough; how many people can bring that kind of money to the table?"
Still, Geer predicted that Obama's fundraising might not be as powerful four years from now, given that so much of this year's giving was driven by anger against Bush and that some of his supporters may grow disillusioned. But Alan Solomont, a Boston financier who led Obama's New England fundraising operation, disagreed.
"What this campaign represented was a moment that the American people stood up and decided to take their government back," he said, "So what's important in next four years is to engage people in their government, and that will result in maintaining this kind of effort four years from now."
Staff writer Michael D. Shear contributed to this report.