Obama’s total dwarfs the amount raised by Republican Mitt Romney, who with $18.5 million led the field of candidates vying to take on the president. In fact, the president’s amount tops the $35 million taken in by all the Republican hopefuls combined.
The money provides Obama with a strategic advantage: While the Republicans seeking to replace him will have to spend much of what they raise this year competing against one another, the president can build up his bank account or invest in campaign operations as he sees fit.
Campaign officials are already hiring spokespeople for key regions, working to register people to vote, and having volunteers contact past supporters and encourage them to get behind Obama again. They have opened 60 offices in states around the country.
The 552,462 people who donated to the president, including 260,000 who did not give in 2008, also suggests that a solid number of supporters may campaign as hard for Obama as they did in 2008, despite frustration among some with his decisions.
At the same time, the rules of fundraising have been reshaped since the last presidential campaign, after a Supreme Court decision that overturned bans on corporate giving. While the Republican presidential candidates are far behind Obama in fundraising, outside conservative groups that can raise contributions in unlimited amounts are likely to narrow any gap between the president and the eventual GOP nominee.
A group advised by former George W. Bush strategist Karl Rove called American Crossroads, for instance, has said it plans to spend $120 million in the 2012 election cycle.
“Having a half-million donors is a big deal — it means that you potentially have a large number of people who are prepared to carry clipboards for you,” said Michael Malbin, executive director of the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute. “But [Republican] candidates can set up a ‘super-PAC’ structure” to close the fundraising gap.
Republicans acknowledged that Obama’s money will give him an early advantage, but they argued that the sluggish economy and dissatisfaction among many voters with the president’s leadership leave him vulnerable.
“All the king’s men and all the king’s money won’t be able to put this Humpty Dumpty together again,” Stuart Stevens, an adviser to Romney, said in a statement. “The D.C. power structure is invested in President Obama. They should keep raising money, our goal is to make them spend it all.”
Obama campaign officials cast the fundraising as a sign that they are building a grass-roots operation that will rival that of 2008, when they raised more than $750 million from nearly 4 million donors. In a conference call with reporters, campaign manager Jim Messina repeatedly touted a series of statistics showing Obama’s appeal to non-wealthy people, noting that the average donation to the campaign was $69 and that the vast majority of contributions were $250 or less.
“This should end any Washington chatter about whether our grass-roots base will be engaged,” Messina said. “Our supporters are back, they’re energized; there is a new generation of supporters who have joined this organization.”
But in fact, the story is more complicated. Much of the tens of millions Obama raised through the Democratic National Committee came from big fundraising events that the president attended throughout the spring. Donors to the DNC can give up to $30,800, and many of those who made the maximum contribution got to attend intimate, invitation-only dinners at which the president took their questions behind closed doors.
And the average donation amount, a number that Obama officials also trumpeted in 2008, could have been dramatically reduced by a contest run by the campaign in which donors who gave $5 were entered into a lottery for a dinner with the president.
Campaign officials on Wednesday declined to say exactly how much of the $86 million came from donors who gave more than $2,000, although an official report they will file with the Federal Election Commission on Friday will include that information.
The campaign will also then release the amount raised by “bundlers,” activists who organize large groups to give money and earn special access to Obama and his staff.
No matter how it was raised, Obama’s total contradicts the claim by Republican candidates that donors are reluctant to give because of the sagging economy.
Obama far exceeded the $60 million that President Bush and the Republican National Committee raised from April to June 2003, the previous record for the same period in the year before a presidential campaign.