TOPICS > Politics

Campaign Finance Reports Reveal Shifting Dynamic in Presidential Campaigns

June 21, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
The latest campaign finance reports revealed Priorities USA, a super PAC supporting President Obama, closed some of the fundraising gap with Restore Our Future, a group supporting Mitt Romney. Jeffrey Brown, Ken Vogel of Politico and Matea Gold of the Los Angeles Times discuss the latest on campaign fundraising.

JEFFREY BROWN: Money flowing in, money flowing out, and candidates making their cases on hand-picked issues.

We begin our political update tonight on the campaign trail.

For Mitt Romney, immigration was the issue of the day, as he addressed a national conference of Latino officials in Orlando, Fla. It came a week after President Obama announced a new policy against deporting children of the illegal immigrants.

Today, Romney again stopped short of saying he’d revoke the decision, even as he criticized it.

MITT ROMNEY (R): As president, I wont settle for stopgap measures. I will work with Republicans and Democrats to build a long-term solution.

And I will prioritize measures. . .


MITT ROMNEY: And I want you to also know this. I will prioritize efforts that strengthen legal immigration and make it more transparent and easier. And I’m going to address the problem of illegal immigration in a civil and resolute manner.

JEFFREY BROWN: The Republican hopeful said he’d complete a 2,000-mile border fence to stop illegal immigration, but he also called for giving green card priority to immigrants with families and to those doing graduate work in the U.S.

MITT ROMNEY: I will work with states and employers to update our temporary worker visa program so that it meets our economic needs. And if you get an advanced degree here, we want you to stay here. So I would staple a green card to the diploma of someone who gets an advanced degree in America.


JEFFREY BROWN: And Romney talked at length about the economy, an issue he said should resonate with Hispanic voters.

MITT ROMNEY: I would ask each of you to honestly look at last three-and-a-half years and ask whether we can do better. Is the America of 11 percent Hispanic unemployment the America of our dreams? We can do better. We can prosper again.

JEFFREY BROWN: The president will address the same conference tomorrow, but today he was focused on federal student loan interest rates, which are set to go up at the end of the month unless Congress prevents the increase.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We’re 10 days away from nearly 7.5 million students seeing their loan rates double because Congress hasn’t acted. This should be a no-brainer. It should not be difficult. It should have gotten done weeks ago.

JEFFREY BROWN: The president called on Congress to act, and he rejected Republican claims that he’s pushing the issue mainly to shift attention away from the economy.

BARACK OBAMA: That doesn’t make much sense because this is the economy. This is all about the economy. This is all about whether or not we are going to have the best trained, best educated work force in the world. That improves our economy.

JEFFREY BROWN: In the meantime, new fund-raising reports from the candidates and their super PAC backers underscored the huge amounts of money being raised and spent so far, where it’s coming from and where it’s going.

And we pick up that part of the story now with two reporters who crunched the numbers when the reports were filed last night: Ken Vogel of Politico and Matea Gold of The Los Angeles Times.

So a lot of numbers thrown out last night.

Before we get to specifics, let me ask you just a general question.

What jumped out at you, Matea first? What stood out?

MATEA GOLD, The Los Angeles Times: Well, I think what came into sharp relief last night was how much money Obama is spending. He burned through more than $44 million last month.

That was three times as much as he did the previous month. And that was largely to respond to these outside groups that have been flooding the airwaves with ads attacking him and trying to frame his record. And this isn’t ads coming from Mitt Romney. These are ads coming from groups such as Americans for Prosperity and Crossroads GPS.

And this has really been forcing Obama to go up on the air in a big way early on in this campaign.

JEFFREY BROWN: Ken Vogel, what jumped out at you?

KEN VOGEL, Politico: I was most surprised, Jeff, by Mitt Romney’s ability to bank on this vast network of big donors that he spent years cultivating.

As soon as he left the Massachusetts governor’s mansion, he started running for president in 2008, he started building this network of big donors. Of course, when you’re just a candidate for the nomination of your party, you’re not able to really accept those big donations. So this time around, we see his super PAC, one of these outside groups that is supporting him that Matea mentioned, really banking on these big donors.

But last month, May, was the first month where Mitt Romney by virtue of essentially securing the nomination and forming a joint fund-raising committee with the Republican National Committee was able to accept big checks, $75,800 checks, into his campaign committee.

He accepted them hand over fist. And on the strength of that, it was the first month in which Romney was able to outraise Obama.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, let’s look at something specific. We will start with President Obama. We have got a graphic of how much he’s raised so far.

Matea, what do we see?

MATEA GOLD: Well, President Obama is obviously no slacker in the fund-raising department, although he was outraised by Romney last time and actually his campaign says they’re bracing to be outraised again in June.

But he’s raised close to $200 million, perhaps more than that, just in his direct campaign committee, more through this joint committee he has with the DNC. He’s been able to do the large check fund-raisers for a while now.

JEFFREY BROWN: In this case, most of the money going directly to his campaign or the DNC and less through the super PACs.

MATEA GOLD: Well, yes. The super PAC that has been campaigning on behalf of the president has had nowhere near the success as Republican outside groups have working on behalf of Mitt Romney, although they did have their best month last month, and they say that they’re really seeing an uptick in support.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, let’s look at the Mitt Romney numbers.

And, Ken, you can walk us through there. There, it’s flipped. It’s much more for the super PACs, affiliated — affiliated, allied, what is the right word to use?

KEN VOGEL: Supportive.

JEFFREY BROWN: Supportive. Explain that relationship. We had to do it every time.

KEN VOGEL: Yes. No, absolutely.

These are new groups that were made possible by a federal court rule rulings. They’re technically called independent expenditure-only political action committees. And what they’re allowed to do is accept unlimited funds to support or oppose a candidate — in this case supporting Mitt Romney, opposing Barack Obama — as long as they don’t coordinate with the campaign.

And what that means is kind of a great area. There is no definition. In fact, Mitt Romney has helped raise money for this super PAC supporting him. Mitt Romney’s former aides are running the super PAC supporting him. And so this super PAC has the sort of unofficial imprimatur of Mitt Romney.

And his big donor s know if they want to really help him, yes, they can give $75,800 to the joint fund-raising committee. But if they really want to help him, they can write six-, seven-, even eight-figure checks to the super PAC.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, speaking of that, where — what do where we see where each one is getting their money? Where are they looking to?

MATEA GOLD: Well, I think we’re going seeing a huge amount of Wall Street money going to Mitt Romney and to the outside groups working on his behalf.

But I think a really important point to note is many of these groups, we have no idea where the money is coming from. The vast majority of the spending has really been what has been coined, this term dark money. And we don’t know who’s funding these tax-exempt advocacy groups such as Crossroads GPS, such as Americans for Prosperity and other organizations.

And so while we can see some of the disclosure reports, we can see what the super PACs are raising, we can’t see what a lot of these groups, where they’re getting their money.

JEFFREY BROWN: What would you add to that? When the candidates go out directly, they target — they do target specific funders. We have heard about these celebrity fund-raisers from the president. Mitt Romney’s having a version of that, I guess, this weekend.


And Democrats have really struggled to compete in this arena, this new unlimited money arena. There are a few demographic groups that they have kind of targeted for big money, including Hollywood. DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg is the biggest donor to the pro-Obama super PAC.

The gay community also very excited about President Obama, his don’t ask, don’t tell — his administration revoking that policy, and his statement in support of gay marriage.

But that doesn’t really go a long way to answering this huge flow of money on the right. And you hear a lot of big Democratic donors just uneasy with this type of campaign finance regime. The last time that they played heavily in it was 2004, when they spent around $200 million going after President Bush. Obviously, the result there was unsuccessful.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, I want to put up two more graphics we have of how the money has been spent. First is from President Obama. That’s a lot of money in the month of May. Right?

MATEA GOLD: Huge amount. It’s more than he brought in for the month, which was $39 million.

And so we’re really seeing a tremendous burn rate. And as I said earlier, most of that went to — $29 million of that went to this massive television ad buy in battleground states. And we’re really seeing that the terms of this election are being fought out right now on the airwaves incredibly early. And many people. . .

JEFFREY BROWN: That’s where the money is going?

MATEA GOLD: That’s where the money is going. And many people have told me they feel like that this race is going to be framed and decided in the — before Labor Day on the airwaves.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, I want to put up the Mitt Romney spending. So, in just our last minute, what do you see there, Ken Vogel?

KEN VOGEL: Well, Mitt Romney, unlike Obama, has been able to kind of sit back and recoup after this very expensive, very bitter Republican primary.

He has had the benefit of having these outside groups going up on the air. We call it — the political jargon is giving him air cover so that he is able to preserve his funds and sort of rebuild his bank account in preparation.

JEFFREY BROWN: That number suggests he’s spending less than the president, but actually it’s the super PACs that are weighing in and spending more.

KEN VOGEL: That’s right. And so he has the benefit of these super PACs that he doesn’t have to do the dirty work that the super PACs are doing on his behalf.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Ken Vogel, Matea Gold, thanks so much.

MATEA GOLD: Pleasure to be here.

KEN VOGEL: Pleasure.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, of course, there is more on the presidential campaign on our Politics page. We have a dispatch from Orlando with reaction to Mitt Romney’s speech and a report on what Sen. Marco Rubio told reporters about how the Republican Party should handle immigration issues.

And, as always, you can find political analysis in The Morning Line.