This year’s presidential campaign funding was expected to surpass that staggering sum Thursday, in the final sprint to Election Day on Nov. 6. Also, anyone in one of the handful of states expected to determine the outcome is sure to see first hand how that money will be put to use.
They are being bombarded with tv ads, flooded with political junk mail, and door to door neighborhood get out and vote pitches. And the $2 billion pricetag will be the most expensive in history. Through September, Obama and his challenger Romney had brought in more than $1.5 billion through the end of September, according to previous fundraising reports submitted before the final pre-election accounting statements were due Thursday night. Obama hadn’t yet disclosed his fundraising for early October, but Romney’s campaign said it raised $111.8 million in the first two weeks.
Added to that: more than $230 million in donations involving super PACs since 2011.
The largest of those were two pro-Romney groups. American Crossroads, a Republican-leaning super PAC with ties to former President George W. Bush’s longtime political counselor Karl Rove, reported raising at least $68 million through September. Restore Our Future, founded by former Romney aides, reported raising $110 million so far. Priorities USA, a pro-Obama group founded by two former aides to the president, reported raising $50 million through last month.
This $2 billion doesn’t include nearly $130 million spent on political ads by non-profit groups that aren’t required to file campaign finance reports or disclose their donors. Such so-called social welfare organizations are governed by tax laws, not election laws, although they are often affiliated with established super PACs.
Also this year marked the first time that both major party candidates opted out from the public financing system established to set limits on how much a presidential candidate can raise and spend. Both Obama and Romney would have been eligible for about $100 million in taxpayer money to support their campaigns through the general election, but both gambled — correctly — that they could raise and spend far more.
And with the 2012 campaign so tight, both Obama and Romney have spent considerable time at high-dollar fundraising events courting wealthy donors. Small donors though, have also donated to both candidates.
Federal election regulators have raised the limit on individual contributions to candidates, which means campaigns can solicit more money from donors than they have in the past. Individual donors can now give a total of $5,000 in the primary and general elections to a candidate, compared to just $2,000 in 2000.
Michael Toner, a Republican campaign finance lawyer and former chairman of the Federal Election Commission, said the close race between Obama and Romney and the sharply polarized electorate have also played a role in accelerating the dash for dollars.
“I don’t know any campaign manager who thinks they have too much money. In this political 50-50 environment you can’t ever have enough,” Toner said. “Every last million could make the difference in who is elected.”
“The distinctive factor in this election is the outside money being spent and the corrupting money financing it,” said Fred Wertheimer, a longtime campaign finance reform advocate. “It’s a symbol of the disastrous campaign finance system we have and the undue influence relatively few well-financed individuals and interest groups now have over government decisions.