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Pro-Obama super PAC raised just $59,000 in January

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Feb. 17, 2012: President Obama speaks in Bellevue, Wash. (AP)

Newly filed financial reports offer a fairly strong clue as to why President Obama's campaign decided to get behind super PAC fundraising. 

Priorities USA, the political committee founded by former Obama aides, raised a grand total of $59,000 in January. 

That's enough to buy a snazzy car with "Obama 2012" stickers on it or perhaps cover travel expenses for staff, but not enough to compete on the airwaves. By comparison, the pro-Mitt Romney Restore Our Future group raised $6.6 million in January. Winning our Future, the pro-Newt Gingrich fund, raised $11 million. 

The Obama campaign has not responded to a request for comment on whether January's meager fundraising drove it to get on board with the super PAC system the president had long shunned in public. 

But Priorities USA co-founder Bill Burton said in an email that "there has been an increase in interest and enthusiasm" since Obama's campaign started getting involved. 

Priorities USA would need a fundraising surge to be competitive with the myriad organizations backing Republican candidates -- and opposing the incumbent president. 

The super PACs sprouted up following recent Supreme Court rulings which allowed unlimited donations for political causes. By law, these campaign committees cannot coordinate with the presidential campaigns themselves or directly fund them. 

However, Obama's campaign reversed course earlier this month and began to urge donors to support Priorities USA. At the time, Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said the campaign couldn't allow for "two sets of rules" for the Republican nominee and the president. 

Though Obama's campaign and the Democratic National Committee have a robust fundraising operation -- bringing in $29 million in January -- federal campaign finance law limits individual donations to $2,500. The Republican National Committee boasted on Tuesday that the Republican field combined with the RNC raised $31.5 million during that same time period.

This forces the campaigns to seek relatively small donations from a wide pool of supporters, something the Obama team prides itself on. 

But the super PAC system allows for unlimited donations, and the past year of super PAC fundraising has shown them coming from a relatively small pool of wealthy loyalists. 

The pro-Gingrich super PAC received $10 million of its $11 million January haul from casino titan Sheldon Adelson and his wife. Romney enjoys the support of a small army of hedge fund managers who donate up to $1 million at a time -- as of Jan. 31, his super PAC had raised nearly $37 million. 

The super PACs supporting Ron Paul and Rick Santorum also far outraised the pro-Obama group in January. 

The Red White and Blue Fund, which backs Santorum, raised about $2 million. Santorum's own presidential campaign raised more than twice that, as the former Pennsylvania senator surges in both state and national polls. 

Endorse Liberty, which backs Paul, raised $2.4 million. 

To date, Obama's Super PAC has raised more than $4 million. Most of that money was raised in the second half of 2011.