"The headlines are talking about how you and I got beat again by the other side in fundraising," President Obama wrote in an email to supporters in August. "Those headlines aren't going away. I will be outspent in this election."
"You may have heard chatter from the other side about the President's so-called 'billion-dollar war chest,'" campaign manager Jim Messina wrote in a separate fundraising email in December. "[T]hey're misleading you. We do not and will not have a billion-dollar war chest."
Someone call the fact-checkers: With a month to go before Election Day, it's becoming increasingly clear that Obama's team will top the billion-dollar mark. Democrats bemoaning a crushing tide of Republican spending might not merit a pants-on-fire, but at the very least the dire warnings are proving mostly false.
Between the beginning of 2011 and August 30, the last date for which publicly-filed records are available, Obama for America has raised $337 million. The Democratic National Committee raised $111 million. The Obama Victory Fund, a joint account that collects big checks and distributes money to other committees, raised $291 million. And the Swing State Victory Fund, another joint account, has raised $3 million (Those are the total receipts reported before distributions from other committees, so we're not double-counting any money).
Over the weekend, the Obama campaign announced it had raised $181 million in the month of September across that Byzantine structure of committees and organizations. All told, Obama's campaign and the committees it controls have raised $923 million. If they raise just half as much in October as they did in September, Obama's campaign will indeed become the first billion-dollar campaign in history.
Given the pace at which Obama is fundraising -- he's in California today, the second part of a two-day Golden State fundraising swing -- a ten-figure campaign is all but guaranteed.
Obama had a point, though: He is being outspent on television. According to data compiled by The Hotline, Republican outside groups have combined to spend $396 million on television advertising to date, more than the $305 million Obama has spent (Add in liberal outside groups and an Obama-backing super PAC and the Republican edge shrinks to $33 million).
But even on television, the raw numbers don't tell the whole story. Federal Communications Commission rules allow a candidate to pay the lowest available cost for television air time, while outside groups have to pay market rates. That means Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney are paying approximately $180 for a single gross ratings point -- the measure of how widely an ad is seen -- in the Las Vegas media market, for example. Outside groups are paying $600 for that same point. A candidate pays $70 in the Colorado Springs media market, while an outside group pays $305 per point. And a candidate must spend $115 in Cincinnati, while American Crossroads and Priorities USA Action are shelling out north of $330 per point.
That means the $305 million Obama has spent on television has actually purchased more air time than the $396 million Republicans have spent.
The Wesleyan Media Project, which tracks the number of spots actually appearing on television, found Obama ran 83,080 individual advertisements between September 9 and September 30 -- nearly 14,000 more than the combined number of advertisements run by Romney, American Crossroads, Crossroads GPS, Americans for Job Security, Restore Our Future, Americans for Prosperity, the Republican Jewish Coalition, American Future Fund, the Republican National Committee and the Ending Spending Fund.
In the same time period, Obama's campaign and its independent allies ran more advertisements than Republicans have in 14 of the top 15 markets, according to Wesleyan's analysis. Republicans only had an advantage in the Las Vegas market.
Television advertising is only the most publicly-available data point on candidate spending. Other less precise measures of a campaign's wealth, like the number of paid staffers or the number of offices in swing states, seem to point toward a distinct Obama advantage as well: Obama's website lists 121 offices around Ohio; the latest is at 647 Wheeling Ave. in Cambridge, just east of Zanesville. Romney's campaign website lists 37 offices in Ohio. Democrats have a similar advantage in other swing states.
Obama is spending substantially more on staff than Romney is as well. His latest FEC report shows 867 paid staffers working directly for the campaign. In mid-July, the last pay period for which figures are available, Romney had 289 staffers on hand (Romney paid his staff better, though. Romney staff made an average of $2,751 during that mid-July pay period, while Obama staffers got an average of $1,799 for their late-August checks). Both sides are employing thousands more staff through national and state parties.
In total, it's proving increasingly far-fetched for the Obama campaign to characterize itself as the financial underdog. Warning he would be outspent made strategic sense for the Obama campaign: After all, it has proven nearly impossible to recreate the enthusiasm Democrats felt during the 2008 election cycle. But if Obama sounds the alarm again, the fact-checkers will have plenty of reasons to issue a Pinocchio or two.