Obama has about 532 campaign “bundlers,” wealthy individuals who help rally groups of like-minded donors, according to Open Secrets. More than half of them didn’t do it for the president last cycle, a statistic that suggests the president’s base of support may have shifted.
Obama doesn’t have a Democratic version of Sheldon Adelson, the casino mogul who recently gave $10 million to Romney’s super PAC. The closest comparison the president has, so far, is DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg. Katzenberg has given $2 million to Priorities USA Action, according to Open Secrets, and has raised at least $50,000 for the Obama campaign.
Right now, substantial fundraising by the campaign could be more efficient than a surge of donations to outside groups, analysts say.
For one thing, thanks to Federal Communications Commission regulations, campaigns and party organizations pay the lowest rate available rate on ad buys in the run-up to an election. This means that the air war, while expensive for both sides, will be more so for, say, Crossroads GPS than for Obama for America.
And the risk of losing the air war, while real, may be overstated. Experts say the influx of outside spending on television ads has more power to sway downballot races than to affect a campaign featuring a president.
“My own view is that those dollars become quite unproductive,” Brookings Institution senior fellow Thomas Mann said, the more GOP-leaning attack ads saturate the market.
Burton said it’s a “very expensive endeavor to try to change people’s perception about the president.” Romney, on the other hand, he said is “a blank slate.”
Obama’s recent fundraising pleas do exactly what he needs to do: establish a sense of urgency. The wave of excitement that allowed the president to raise a record-breaking $750 million in 2008 has subsided, and recapturing that enthusiasm is the campaign’s challenge.
The avalanche of spending from the right provides an alarm bell that Democrats aren’t hesitating to ring.
“The Republican super PACs, apart from Romney and apart from his own super PAC, intend to spend a billion dollars in this campaign,” Obama strategist David Axelrod told Current TV in May. “So a handful of … billionaires with a special-interest agenda are going to try to buy this government.”
The campaign wants to position the president as the candidate of middle-class uplift, and Romney as the out-of-touch rich guy. Talking about Obama’s fundraising challenges and linking Romney to behind-the-scenes billionaires makes that narrative more urgent. Emphasizing Obama’s reliance on small donors gives the story authenticity.
“What's at stake is the very idea that regular people should still be in control of elections in this country,” Deputy Campaign Manager Juliana Smoot wrote in a recent fundraising email.
Major Garrett contributed.