5:24 pm Jul. 12, 2012
A recent report says that for all the hand-wringing about big outside money in this presidential cycle, Barack Obama is maintaining a financial advantage over Mitt Romney after all.
There's some truth to this on a technical level. But it's misleading.
In a story for the Washington Examiner, Timothy P. Carney noted that Obama still leads Romney in overall fund-raising this cycle, $326 million to $227 million, and that the Democratic National Committee has out-raised the Republican National Committee, $210 million to $187 million.
But Carney goes one big step further, to assert that, on the whole, "Obama is way ahead of Romney in the money race," which is a much tougher case to make.
Carney cites F.E.C. data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics to argue that "outside groups explicitly taking Obama's side--super-PACs, 527s and PACs--have spent more than the outside groups on Romney's side."
The key word here is "explicitly."
Groups that explicitly advocate for one candidate over another must register with the F.E.C. and report their spending. Among those groups, more than $23 million has been spent opposing Romney, while just over $11 million has been spent opposing Obama, according to F.E.C. records compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. (As Carney notes, some of the anti-Romney total was spent during the primary, though he says about $18 million was "liberal money.")
But nonprofit groups that don't explicitly advocate for a single candidate, and only generally express their aversion to, say, "Obama's out-of-control spending," don't have to report their spending to the F.E.C., and therefore don't show up in the Center for Responsive Politics numbers.
The Examiner article mentions the fact that "some outside groups" are not required to disclose spending. But those outside groups are the whole point.
Americans for Prosperity, the nonprofit organization founded by David Koch, has spent a paltry $67,643 in indepdent expenditures opposing Obama, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, even though the group spent $6 million in April on ads that accuse Obama of squandering stimulus money overseas (ending with the line: "Tell President Obama American tax dollars should help American taxpayers"), after an earlier $6 million buy attacking the president for the grants given to the failed solar company Solyndra.
The Kochs are reportedly planning to spend a total of $400 million supporting Republican candidates this cycle.
Because organizations like Americans for Prosperity don't have to disclose their spending--except, in part, to the I.R.S. once a year--it's impossible to offer an actual comparison of the total spending by each side. But a story in the New York Times Magazine last week detailed just how hard Obama's own super PAC had to work to secure some of its $1 million contributions, which is one-tenth of the $10 million Republican billionaire Sheldon Adelson recently committed to the anti-Obama effort, after spending a previous $10 million on a long-shot bid for Newt Gingrich. (Adelson is reportedly planning to send the money to the Kochs' group, which means his $10 million also won't appear on the F.E.C.'s ledger.)
Likewise, American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, the sister organizations founded by Karl Rove, have spent a little over $400,000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics numbers, despite announcing a $25 million dollar ad campaign targeting Obama last week. (Crossroads has floated $300 million as the total amount it will spend for Republicans this cycle.)
"We're suffering through one of the weakest economic recoveries in our history, and the only thing President Obama is offering is slogans and excuses," the group's president, Steven Law, said in the press release announcing the latest buy.
If it were counted as "explicitly" targeting Obama, that one $25 million ad campaign alone would swamp the anti-Romney spending cited in the Examiner report.