Big Donors Drive Obama's Money Edge

Barack Obama appears with his wife, Michelle, at a rally in Miami yesterday. Of the $600 million his campaign has raised overall, one-quarter has come from donors who gave $200 or less.
Barack Obama appears with his wife, Michelle, at a rally in Miami yesterday. Of the $600 million his campaign has raised overall, one-quarter has come from donors who gave $200 or less. (By Linda Davidson -- The Washington Post)
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By Matthew Mosk and Sarah Cohen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The record-shattering $150 million in donations that Sen. Barack Obama raised in September represents only part of the financial advantage the Democratic nominee has amassed entering the final weeks of the presidential contest, newly released campaign finance records show.

Obama and the Democratic Party committees supporting his campaign had $164 million remaining in their collective accounts entering the campaign's final full month, compared with $132 million available for Sen. John McCain and the Republican Party.

The advantage is compounded by Obama's ability to continue to raise money through the election because he decided not to participate in the federal financing program. McCain opted in, meaning he received $84.1 million in federal funds to spend between the Republican National Convention and Nov. 4, and he must rely solely on the Republican National Committee for additional financial support.

Behind Obama's staggering fundraising numbers, compiled on more than 80,000 pages filed with the Federal Election Commission late Monday, are signs that it was far more than just a surge of Internet donors that fueled a coordinated Democratic effort to try to swamp McCain.

Interest among major party donors grew so fevered that the Democratic Party created a separate committee to capture millions of additional dollars from individuals who had already given Obama the most the law allows and who had also anted up $28,500 to the Democratic National Committee.

The Committee for Change, created in mid-July, has become a vehicle for ultra-rich Democratic donors to distinguish themselves from the 3.1 million others who have put $600 million behind Obama's presidential candidacy.

"We kept running into donors who had maxed out to Obama Victory who wanted to do additional money and had the capacity to do it and were eager to do it," said Alan Kessler, a Philadelphia lawyer who recently held a fundraiser for the committee. "They asked if there were vehicles and other ways to do it, and we said yes."

The committee, which has been routing millions of dollars directly to state party accounts and will help fuel Obama's field operations, represents the flip side of the grass-roots fundraising effort that helped turn Obama into the most successful money-raiser in presidential campaign history.

Similar joint committees are active on both sides of the political aisle. Rick Davis, McCain's campaign manager, announced this year that McCain would attempt to keep pace with Obama by creating a Victory Fund that would collect as much as $70,000 apiece from wealthy donors. The fund disburses money to the Republican National Committee, state party committees, and a separate fund to pay McCain's legal and accounting bills.

Lost in the attention given to Obama's Internet surge is that only a quarter of the $600 million he has raised has come from donors who made contributions of $200 or less, according to a review of his FEC reports. That is actually slightly less, as a percentage, than President Bush raised in small donations during his 2004 race, although Obama has pulled from a far larger number of donors. In 2004, the Bush campaign claimed more than 2 million donors, while the Obama campaign claims to have collected its total from more than 3.1 million individuals.

"It's just unbelievable," said Thomas A. Daschle, the former Senate leader who is a top Obama adviser. "I don't know that anybody could have anticipated that the numbers would be this good."

Even some Republicans have come away impressed.

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