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As filing deadline approaches, presidential campaigns see slow returns

June 30, 2011|By Tom Hamburger
(Scott Kraus/AP )

With the deadline for filing presidential fundraising reports hours away Thursday, officials from nearly every campaign predicted a relatively low dollar total compared with the historic highs at this time in the 2008 campaign cycle.

Campaign aides were engaged in the traditional ritual of spinning their tally as a show of firm support, blaming fundraising challenges on circumstances outside their control and certainly not a reflection on their candidate.

Still, the slumping tally was notable in the camp of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the GOP frontrunner in polls and fundraising. Romney aides said he will report raising only about $20 million, less than the up to $50 million anticipated by supporters a few months ago --and well below the $44 million he reported by this point in 2007 in his first presidential bid.

President Obama was aiming toward a $60 million total, some of it raised jointly with the Democratic National Committee. At this point in 2007 both he and Hillary Clinton reported raising close to that amount for their own campaigns.

Candidates are required to file reports with the Federal Elections Commission of money received by midnight Thursday. Campaign receipts and disbursements will be publicly released July 15.

Does the comparatively low level of fundraising this year suggest an end to the ever-escalating cost of presidential campaigns? Not likely.

“The cumulative amount of money will be lower this quarter,” says Michael Malbin, an expert at the Campaign Finance Institute. “But the difference is mostly due to the late start of the campaign.”

Candidate fundraising is on a different schedule this year, in part because of uncertainty over whether the GOP field is complete. Added disincentives were a poor economy, a lack of enthusiasm for many of the candidates and the competing demands of new outside campaign-related groups.

Malbin and other experts predict that by the end of the election cycle, another spending record will have been set, once the cash flowing into the outside groups is included.

While Romney may raise only $20 million in his official campaign fund, an independent “Super PAC” set up by his supporters is expected to report raising several million additional dollars. By law, Romney cannot steer money to this new kind of PAC, which resulted from a Supreme Court decision last year that made it legal for individuals, unions and corporations to give unlimited funds to such entities.

Anthony Corrado Jr., a campaign finance expert at Colby College predicts this cycle will see “hundreds of millions” in contributions to these new groups whose activities will change the nature of campaigns and, perhaps, the role of the political parties. The groups differ from traditional candidate or party PACs, to which contributions are strictly limited.

While diminished compared with 2008, Romney's start was already impressive to Corrado, even if some of it represented a sleight of hand. The former Massachusetts governor’s campaign told reporters in May that he had raised $10 million in a one-day phone-a-thon in Las Vegas. But the amount actually represented pledges gathered earlier and tallied that day, not just funds actually taken in by the campaign. Still, it showed that Romney continues to have access to a loyal and substantial group of donors, Corrado said.

Although their fundraising tallies were not available Thursday, the other GOP candidates are expected to report receipts below Romney’s total.

Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann has an extraordinary fundraising base for a House member. She surpassed all other members last year to raise about half of her $13 million in personal campaign funds from donors giving $200 or less. But she opened her presidential campaign only recently and her numbers may suffer due to that timing. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who kicked off his campaign less than two weeks ago, may suffer similarly.

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, has worked hard to raise funds and his name recognition. Supporters expect that he will report several million dollars in donations, but well below Romney’s total. Ron Paul, the libertarian Texas congressman, is also expected to report far less than Romney, although he has a devoted following and has had success in internet fundraising.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is unlikely to have raised much, but he has an excuse –his senior staff, including some fundraisers, resigned en masse. A campaign aide said Gingrich was hustling to raise as much as possible, holding a conference call with 12,000 small donors early in the week and spending two days raising funds in California.

“I know that as a supporter, it’s been a tough ride the past few weeks,” Gingrich wrote in an email to supporters on Tuesday. “…The June 30th fundraising report is a critical show of support in these early stages of the campaign. Giving $10 now is like giving $100 in January.”

Staff writers Kim Geiger and Melanie Mason contributed to this report.

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