WASHINGTON -- After months of reports of his opponent's fundraising prowess, campaign e-mails despairing about their potential money disadvantage and a large amount of media speculation about dipping enthusiasm from donors, the fundraising machine that is the reelection campaign of President Barack Obama now looks like the $1 billion money machine that was promised back in early 2011.
Raking in $84.7 million in August, a record for the month, the president's campaign continued to roll on its way to matching or exceeding the record $750 million he raised in 2008. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's haul of $66 million, a hefty amount, left him with the runner-up prize, a tie for the previous record for August fundraising set by Obama in 2008.
The fundraising numbers echoed familiar themes that have played out in the campaign in the days since a video of Romney speaking to a $50,000-a-plate fundraiser leaked onto the Internet.
Romney's campaign continued its reliance on a relatively small donor base, pulling in $38 million, or 58 percent of its donations, from donors giving $2,500 or more. The Obama campaign raised its money from 1.17 million individual donors last month, with $33.7 million -- nearly 40 percent of his total -- coming from small donors giving less than $200.
August should have been a big month for Romney to expand his donor base, especially among small-dollar donors. The announcement of conservative Rep. Paul Ryan as his vice presidential nominee and the Republican National Convention in Tampa should have been events that both excited the party faithful, including those at the grassroots, and got them to open their wallets. While the big donations came in abundance, small donations did not. The campaign raised only $9.45 million from small donors, less than they raised in the previous month.
Despite the Obama campaign's mammoth August, Romney does have one bright spot: the Republican National Committee (RNC). Since Romney is popular among top-dollar contributors, the RNC's contribution limit of $30,800 allows big money to be raised from Romney's circle of donors. The party committee pulled in $35 million in August and is sitting on $76 million in the bank.
Fundraising for the Democratic National Committee (RNC) has lagged behind the RNC considerably. The group only raised $4.7 million in August and took out an $8 million line of credit for a total of $13.7 million in the bank. The DNC ended the month with just $7.1 million cash on hand.
Due to this disparity between the party committees, the cash on hand situation favors the Romney camp. Romney and the RNC currently hold $127 million to Obama and the DNC's $96 million.
But this also underscores the bizarre situation where the majority of Romney's funds sit at the RNC, a committee that he does not control and can only coordinate with in a limited amount. This is no small matter, as the spending decisions, or lack thereof, by the Romney campaign in August and over the summer have demonstrated.
Despite all the record figures raised by the Obama campaign and the cash on hand advantage held by Romney and the RNC, the real story of August is likely to be the spending decisions of the Romney campaign and the extent to which they were trounced over the television airwaves.
The campaign committee might be raking in large numbers, but it has questionably refused to spend big money on advertising. Romney's campaign spent a total of $66 million in August -- the same amount it took in -- with only $18.4 million going to media buys and production. The advertising budget for the Obama campaign nearly equaled the entire Romney August budget, with $65 million put forward for television.
This advertising disparity is nothing new. Since Romney became the presumptive nominee in May, the Obama camp has dumped tens of millions every month into advertising to define the Republican candidate before he could define himself. In total, including August's numbers, the Obama campaign has outspent Romney on advertising by nearly 600 percent -- $171.4 million to just $30.3 million.
The advertisements, which have painted Romney as everything from a right-wing extremist waging a war on women to an out-of-touch robber baron hiding his wealth in offshore tax shelters, have helped to define Romney to voters in a negative light during the crucial period of time during which they were being introduced to him.
Romney's low spending on television points to a questionable strategy of hoarding money while outsourcing the burden of expensive advertising buys to super PACs, nonprofits and the Republican National Committee (RNC). All of these groups, which either cannot coordinate with the campaign or can only coordinate on a limited amount of spending, have been more inclined to run negative ads attacking the president on the economy, gas prices and health care reform, leaving little time to introduce Romney to voters and define him in a positive light.
Pointing to the success of the Obama advertising strategy and Romney's failure to flood the airwaves early, Romney remains the only major party candidate in recent history to have an upside-down favorability rating this late in the campaign, according to the Pew Research Center.
This decision to outsource Romney's advertising may have been born out of the fundraising landscape. Romney's campaign could not tap into the general election funds it was raising over the summer and was short on primary funds -- the campaign took out a $20 million loan in August, of which it has paid back $9 million.