President-elect Barack Obama brought in nearly $750 million for his presidential campaign, a record amount that exceeds what all of the candidates combined collected in private donations in the previous race for the White House, according to a report filed yesterday with the Federal Election Commission.
Underscoring the success of his fund-raising, Obama reported that he had nearly $30 million in the bank as of Nov. 24, despite spending furiously at the end of his campaign. Obama spent more than $136 million from Oct. 16 to Nov. 24, the period covered in the finance report. He also took in $104 million in contributions during that time.
By comparison, his Republican opponent, Senator John McCain, who was limited to the $84 million allotted to him from the Treasury under public financing, spent $26.5 million during that period, according to his latest campaign finance report. Although McCain had $4 million left over, he had $4.9 million in debt, the report said.
Assuming that most of that money came in before Election Day, Nov. 4, it appears Obama's fund-raising stepped up significantly as the campaign drew to a close. In the first half of October, he raised just $36 million.
An exact figure is difficult to calculate because of vagaries in the way fund-raising numbers are reported. But it appears that Obama, who became the first major-party nominee to bypass public financing in the general election since the system began in the 1970s, raised more than $300 million for the general election alone.
When Obama decided after he clinched the Democratic nomination to bypass public financing, campaign officials said they needed to raise at least twice as much as they would receive in public money, with a goal of raising three times as much, to make it worth the added time away from campaigning that he needed to devote to fund-raising.
Obama's fund-raising total - fueled by both small donors giving incremental amounts online and large donors who were given the chance to mingle with him - appeared to more than validate his campaign's gamble.
Indeed, it could very well mark the epitaph to the public financing system, which critics have long declared is badly in need of updating.
At a minimum, it sets an imposing bar for any Republican challenger to Obama in 2012.
"Assuming Obama runs again and his fund-raising prowess is sustained, then it will be a daunting undertaking for any opponent," said Kenneth Gross, a campaign finance lawyer at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.
In one illustration of the scope of Obama's fund-raising haul, all the candidates running for president in 2004, including President Bush and Senator John F. Kerry, the Democratic nominee, together collected less than $650 million, not counting the money received under public financing during the primary and the general elections, FEC figures show.
They say, now that Obama broke all fundraising records, the current campaign finance system is broken. No candidate will ever accept public financing seeing the colossal amount of funds that Obama raised in his primary and general election campaigns. Why wouldn't they? He who has the most money, wins. So of course they want to win, and certainly don't want to risk sharing the same fate as John McCain, who ironically, was the victim of his own campaign finance reform.
I was reading an article by Karl Rove, McCain Couldn't Compete With Obama's Money, and he wrote something that I agreed with, "It is time to trust the American people and remove limits on how much an individual can donate to a campaign. By doing that, we can design a system that will be much more open by requiring candidates to frequently report donations in an online database. Technology makes this possible. Such a system would be easier for journalists to use and would therefore make it more likely that fund raising would be included in news coverage. That would give voters the tools they need to determine if a candidate is getting too much from unattractive people. "
I, too, think that it is time we remove limits on how much an individual can donate to a campaign. Maybe it will reduce the amount of funds that come in in result of campaign finance fraud.