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September 23, 2014

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election 2012:

The numbers behind the $1 billion presidential campaigns

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ASSOCIATED PRESS

President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney participate in the second presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2012.

It’s the $1 billion campaign vs. the $1 billion campaign — and neither side has a clear edge in the money race headed down the home stretch.

Both President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney’s campaigns, party committees and super PAC allies are all but assured of raising $1 billion on each side of the campaign ledger by Election Day.

Obama’s side has pulled in $969 million while Team Romney’s raised $919 million, according to a Politico analysis of Federal Election Commission data.

Yet, while Obama’s side has outraised Romney, the Republican and his allies came into October with a $43 million cash lead on the strength of a somewhat risky big-money hoarding strategy.

Team Romney was criticized for sitting on reserves over the summer while the Obama camp flooded the airwaves with attack ads, but Romney’s October ad spending binge seems to have come at an optimal time. The GOP nominee surged on the strength of a strong performance in the first debate, and polls indicated that he closed the gap with Obama as voters gave him another look.

Fueled by big donors, Romney’s campaign, combined with the super PAC and party committees boosting it, had nearly $200 million in the bank at the end of last month compared with $156 million for Obama’s campaign and the super PAC and party committees dedicated to it, according to FEC reports filed this week. They also showed that Romney’s had $12 million less debt than the $27 million owed by the Obama committees, with $20.5 million of that belonging to the Democratic National Committee.

And the Romney campaign has raised more than $27 million online during the first two weeks of October — more than it raised online during any previous full month — a campaign official told Politico.

“Our campaign has the resources and organization to win,” Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said.

Perhaps more important than the overall figures are the starkly divergent approaches illuminated in the FEC reports.

Obama’s campaign and the supportive Priorities USA Action super PAC went on an advertising spending binge over the summer, hoping to define — and potentially put away — Romney, who was restocking his war chest and recouping after a bitter GOP primary. The pro-Romney Restore Our Future super PAC stepped in to fill some of the gap, depleting its bank account with a $30 million advertising push attacking Obama in August.

Romney’s campaign did not immediately pick up the slack early in September, however, instead waiting a few weeks for a sustained final push. Last month, it spent about $37 million on placed media and production while the Obama campaign spent nearly $90 million on broadcast ad buys, production and advertising consulting.

But Romney’s late-breaking strategy may be hindered by another strategic difference: His side raised more of its cash through the Republican National Committee and the joint victory fund it set up with the Romney campaign. The RNC and Romney Victory can accept far larger checks than the $5,000-maximum campaign donation, but they also have to pay more for ads than the campaign, face restrictions on how much they can spend in direct coordination with it and — in the case of the joint fundraising committee — is obligated to disburse its cash among a host of far-flung component committees.

To wit, Romney Victory revealed in a Monday report that it had transferred $44 million to state parties in Idaho, Massachusetts, Oklahoma and Vermont and $12 million to the GOP’s national congressional committees — which can’t coordinate with Romney. While the expectation in Boston is that the state party committees will use the cash to fund get-out-the-vote activities in key swing states, the plan carries some risk, representing a sort of outsourcing of critical campaign activity that most campaign operatives prefer to control themselves.

Yet, Romney is going to be forced to rely more on others down the stretch since, at the end of September, the RNC and Romney Victory had $120 million in the bank compared with the Romney campaign’s $63 million.

Obama Victory, by contrast, had transferred only $6.6 million to affiliated state parties — instead shipping most of its cash to Obama’s campaign committee. Partly as a result, it finished last month with $99 million in the bank compared with less than $50 million held by the DNC and Obama Victory 2012.

Plus, the Obama forces seem to be getting more bang for their advertising buck. That’s both because the Romney campaign’s unusual media-buying strategy has not reserved air time as far in advance as Obama’s, and campaigns get better advertising deals than party committees and outside groups through so-called lowest-unit rates.

From Oct. 4-11, Romney, the RNC and GOP-allied outside groups outspent Obama and his allies on TV ads $31.6 million to $28.1 million, but Democrats aired about 5,000 more ads, according to data from Kantar Media’s CMAG ad tracking service reported by ABC News.

Ad rates aside, both sides’ super PACs and outside groups are planning aggressive pushes through Nov. 6, not only to reach as many undecided swing state voters as possible but also to prove their worth to big donors who gave historic amounts of cash.

Priorities USA Action — which received a total of $6.7 million last month from Chicago media mogul Fred Eychaner, hedge fund manager Jim Simons, businessman S. Daniel Abraham, and Hollywood producers Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg — finished September with $7.3 million in the bank. It’s spent $12.8 million this month — entirely on negative ads scorching Romney.

In a Saturday memo, its co-founder, Bill Burton, boasted that Priorities’ $20 million summertime ad barrage attacking Romney’s record at the private equity firm Bain Capital made it “a significant liability.” And he pledged a “renewed effort” in swing states in the coming days.

Restore Our Future — which reported seven-figure September donations from Houston home builder Bob Perry, Houston Texans football team owner Bob McNair and Missouri construction magnate Stanley Herzog — ended last month with nearly $17 million in the bank. Its total fundraising for the cycle — $112 million — dwarfs Priorities’ $50 million haul.

But Restore Our Future spent heavily bludgeoning Romney’s opponents in the GOP primary and has devoted only $45 million to attacking Obama — lately focusing narrowly on a few swing states. The super PAC also has spent about $11 million on ads promoting Romney since April, when it became clear he’d win the Republican nomination.

The public will get a final look at the finances of the Obama and Romney campaigns, joint and party committees, and super PACs by Thursday, when they face a deadline for detailing the money they’ve raised, spent and have available through mid-October.

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