Published August 21, 2012
“I do not think that Governor Romney is somehow responsible for the death of the woman that was portrayed in that ad. But keep in mind: This is an ad that I did not approve, I did not produce, and as far as I can tell, has barely run. I think it ran once.”
-- President Obama talking to reporters about an attack ad produced by the political action committee he supports.
A Republican presidential candidate would have never dared do what Barack Obama did in 2008 and drop out of the public financing system for presidential candidates. Ushered in as part of a slate of post-Watergate reforms, any member of the Red Team who shunned the public money and its attendant restrictions on private fundraising would have been pilloried.
But Obama, an upstart Democrat running on a reform platform and who talked tough about lobbyists and ethics, paid no price for dropping out of the public financing system and becoming the first major-party candidate to shun the system since its creation in 1974. Sen. John McCain, even as the most famous crusader in Congress for greater restrictions on campaign cash, could summon no public or press outcry over Obama reneging on their deal to submit to the system.
Matching funds were created with an eye to help Democrats and specifically Democrats like Obama, outsiders. The matching funds were intended to close a historical fundraising gap between the parties. But with the advent of Internet fundraising, Obama believed he could generate enough small-donor support online to overcome the Republican advantage among large donors.
Obama was right, and he deluged McCain with campaign spending while sodden senator was stuck inside the matching-funds system. Best of all for Obama, his astronomical spending was spun into a positive by a press corps that usually deplores big money campaigns. Like everything else Obama did, his spending onslaught was described in terms of “youth,” “technology” and, as always, “new.”
Imagine if McCain had bailed out on the system. It would have been a slaughter. The words would have been “hypocrite,” “corporate influence” and “brazen.”
Only Richard Nixon could go to China, and only Barack Obama could ditch limits on campaign spending.
No other Democrat would have done it because of the concern about what is happening now: That once unchained, the Republicans would return to the dominant position on fundraising. Obama paid little attention to political norms in his candidacy and seemed untroubled by the idea that once he smashed the status quo on campaign spending, he might be the victim of his own trick.
Soon-to-be Republican nominee Mitt Romney is now pummeling Obama when it comes to fundraising. Romney is raking it in from big donors and from grass-roots activists online, giving him three consecutive months of taking in more than $100 million. Romney wouldn’t have been able to do that under the old system. But thanks to Obama, the wealthy Republican is free to open floodgates.
Meanwhile, the proceeds from Obama’s unprecedented fundraising push over the past year are quickly evaporating.
In campaign finance filings for July, Obama raised less than Romney but spent more, leaving the once undisputed master of fundraising with a $10 million deficit for the month. Obama’s still on track to match his record $746 million haul from 2008, but unfortunately for the incumbent, he’s spending more than he’s taking in.
This deficit has led to an unexpected moment in the race for the White House. At the end of July, the president and his allies were sitting on $124 million for his re-election bid, nearly $60 million less than Team Romney. This surprising imbalance is happening just at the wrong moment for the president, too. Romney has been pushing his donors to give him general-election cash that can’t be spent until after next week’s convention. Obama has been spending primary season cash. While the president has been spending, Romney has been hoarding for a 10-week onslaught against the incumbent.
Much of Obama’s deficit can be blamed on the president’s huge spending on attack ads in July. Obama spent nearly $40 million on television ads last month, almost $30 million more than Romney. But Obama continues to struggle to pay for his enormous campaign operation. Consider payroll costs for the campaigns last month. Obama spent $4.1 million versus Romney’s $1.6 million. That’s a lot of overhead.
The president believes that all of this spending will pay off in negative public views of Romney and in a superior ground game come fall. By hitting Romney so hard and by building such an immense apparatus, Obama believes that he can win a grudge-match election.
But the huge demands for cash are pushing the president to add more fundraisers and do more to keep big donors happy. Obama clearly expected that as an incumbent and as the most prodigious fundraiser in history that he would have the spending advantage again this time. That is proving a dangerous assumption.
In his impromptu, miniature press conference on Monday, the president declined to repudiate an ad from the political action committee he supports linking Romney to the 2006 death of a Kansas City woman. He echoed the defense of the ad from the group, saying that he did not believe Romney was responsible for the woman’s death. The PAC’s leader, former Obama spokesman Bill Burton has said the same thing.
As Obama was talking, reporters were sifting through the PAC’s July fundraising report to discover the group saw it’s income drop from $6.1 million in June to $4.7 million. By comparison, the well-funded PAC run by former Romney aides on Monday began a $10.5 million swing-state ad blitz.
The president, now knowing that he will be outgunned in his own spending and in the spending from outside groups, is likely not interested in adding any more opprobrium to what’s already been doled out on the PAC. He needs Burton’s group raising and spending as fast as it can. However much Obama might like to try to retake the high ground on personal attacks, PACs and “the politics of fear,” his July deficit shows that he simply cannot afford it.
Obama was hailed in 2008 for his audacious decision to blow up the presidential fundraising status quo. His choice looks more dubious in hindsight.
And Now, A Word From Charles
“The irony is the clip you showed about him answering question about the tax returns was in response to a question of, ‘How come you are so negative?’ – ‘I'm not negative. I'm just attacking him on tax returns.’”
-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”
Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com. Catch Chris Live online daily at 11:30amET at http:live.foxnews.com.