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Campaign watch: Breaking down the candidates’ fundraising profiles

presidential debate

Deployed Sailors watch a presidential debate. By Flickr user Official Navy U.S. Imagery

With the Presidential race entering the final stretch, it’s time to cycle back to where this column got started: Looking at the fundraising profiles of President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney.

Early predictions said that Campaign 2012 would break all records, and it has already. Early predictions said that Romney would benefit from a small number of wealthy donors while Obama would be able to rely on his grassroots cadre of small-dollar donors. That, too, has turned out to be the case. But early predictions said that corporate America would flood into super PACs in the wake of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision. That, so far, has not happened.

So let’s get right to the numbers, starting with the newest entrant on the campaign finance scene, super PACs. In 2010, the first year super PACs appeared, a mid-term election year with the House and Senate was up for grabs. A total of 84 super PACs spent $65 million. In campaign 2012, that number has grown seven-fold.

Open Secrets.org, which maintains campaign finance data, reports that 942 super PACs are active in the current campaign and have raised a total of $462 million. Of this, $270 million has been raised by conservative super PACs and $115 million by liberal ones.  Interestingly enough, while it was expected that many corporations would funnel money into superpacs, corporations appear to have steered clear.

Some say this has been out of fear of a backlash from shareholders and customers. Another theory holds that this corporate money is coming into the race via less obvious routes. This would be through other entities, mainly the Chamber of Commerce or through 501( C )(4) organizations which, unlike super PACs, are not required to disclose their donors. The Citizens United decision allows corporations, for the first time, to use corporate money to make donations to groups supporting or opposing federal candidates.

Then there are the candidates themselves. In September alone, both candidates have reported big hauls. A total of $170 million for Romney and $181 million for Obama. Big numbers, but with some big differences. The bulk of Obama’s money has come from small donors, raised mostly online. This has allowed him to focus more on campaigning and less on fund-raising. Romney has been making a last-minute push with his big donors and has spent considerable time wooing his wealthy supporters. The New York Times reported that the Romney campaign held a three-day retreat Manhattan in October with a $50,000 price tag. Among the invited to the Waldorf-Astoria event were members of his “Founding Partners and Members” and his “Stars and Stripes” top donor circles.

follow the moneyOutside groups, other than super PACs, remain big players. They add another $410 million to the pot, money that goes both to the Presidential race and to House and Senate races. The two political parties themselves have been furiously raising money as well: The most recent statistics show Republicans and Democrats in a financial arms race. Democratic party committees have raised $672 million for the White House and Congressional races and the Republicans have raised $661 million.

The late Senator Everett Dirksen is said to have coined the phrase “A billion here, a billion there and pretty you’re talking real money.” While the Dirksen Center says there is no evidence Dirksen uttered the words popularly attributed to him, the sentiment holds true when it comes to campaign finance. Spending for all federal races exceeded $5 billion in the 2008, a record that is expected to be left in the dust when the final accounting for 2012 takes place.

Of that, both Obama and Romney are expected to have raised and spent more than $1 billion each before Election Day, and are well on their way towards that number.

While many have decried the vast money going into politics, some are benefiting. This is mainly the television networks, political consultants and ad makers who are employed by the parties and the candidates. In a recent Atlantic Monthly article, Les Moonves, chief executive of CBS, said that political advertising would boost CBS’s profits by $180 million.

“Super PACs may be bad for America,” said Les Moonves, said in the article, “but they’re good for CBS.”

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