Reporting from Washington—The first look at the campaign finance activities of the 2012 White House contenders underscored not only President Obama's huge cash advantage over his rivals but also the wide disparities in the Republican field, setting the stage for an urgent money hunt by GOP candidates in the coming months.
While former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Obama's nearest rival in the money race, entered the summer months with a healthy $12.7 million on hand at the close of the second quarter, his GOP opponents lagged far behind. Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, who has enjoyed a major jump in the polls in recent weeks, reported raising just $4.2 million for the quarter, with $3.6 million on hand. And former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is already carrying a $1-million debt — nearly half of it owed to a charter jet company.
Obama's robust coffers served to emphasize the financial difficulties of the Republican field. After raking in a staggering $86.7 million in the last quarter, the president started July with $37 million in cash on hand and no primary opponent. He benefited from a flood of small donations under $200 that totaled more than $21 million.
"This should end any Washington chatter about whether or not our grass-roots supporters will be engaged," campaign manager Jim Messina told reporters this week, adding: "Our people are back and energized."
The campaign did not note that Obama has fared just as well with large donors who poured money into the Obama Victory Fund, which has been holding joint, high-priced fundraisers for the campaign and the Democratic National Committee. Of the $39.3 million contributed to that fund in the last three months, more than $21 million was donated by around 600 people who each gave the maximum $35,800 allowed under federal law, according to an analysis by the Los Angeles Times.
Obama's campaign also disclosed that more than 240 major fundraisers, or bundlers, had brought in large sums for his reelection — including 27 individuals and couples who each directed at least $500,000 to the reelection campaign and DNC.
His Republican rivals did not disclose similar bundler lists, although Romney reported that six lobbyists together raked in more than $517,000 for his campaign.
While the former Massachusetts governor brought in considerably less than the $30 million to $50 million his supporters had floated as a goal earlier this year, his haul of $18.3 million put him far ahead of the rest of the pack. Vying for second place were Rep. Ron Paul with $4.5 million, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty with $4.3 million, and Bachmann with her $4.2 million.
The campaign of former Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman has said he pulled in $4.1 million, including under half that came from Huntsman himself. His campaign filings will not be available until October because of his late entry into the race.
Gingrich nabbed $2.1 million for the quarter, while former Godfather's Pizza Chief Executive Herman Cain raised $2 million and loaned himself an additional $500,000. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum collected just $582,000.
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who has not said whether she is running, raised $1.6 million for her political action committee and spent nearly the same amount — including nearly $14,000 on a decorative wrap for the bus she used for her high-profile East Coast tour this spring.
Romney's reliance on a traditional finance infrastructure was apparent in the details of his donations. About $6 million — one-third — came from three money-rich states: California ($2.4 million), New York ($2.1 million) and Florida ($1.5 million). He also relied heavily on large-dollar donors: just 6% of his contributions were in amounts under $200.
In all, Romney spent $5.6 million for the quarter — a burn rate of 31% — with $750,000 going to payroll costs and $500,000 to travel expenses.
Pawlenty, who raised a fraction of Romney's money, devoted close to the same amount on payroll. Of the $2.5 million his campaign spent last quarter — a burn rate of 56% — nearly $600,000 went to employ about three dozen staff members. He ended the quarter with $2 million in cash.
"Gov. Pawlenty is building a grass-roots organization that is focused on doing well in the early states and investing our resources wisely," spokesman Alex Conant said when asked about the campaign's high staff costs.
The largest share of Pawlenty's money — $1.06 million — came from his home state of Minnesota, while he raised just $9,300 in Iowa, a state key to his hopes.
Bachmann's total take for the quarter was smaller than some political analysts expected, but she demonstrated her affinity with the grass roots, pulling in nearly 75% of her money in donations of less than $200.
Although the Minnesota congresswoman did not get into the race until June 13, she is able to draw from a previous congressional account that is now linked to her presidential committee.
In the first two and half weeks of her campaign, Bachmann raised $2.3 million between both accounts, and notched just under $1 million in operating expenses. She ended the quarter with $364,000 in debts, mostly owed to fundraising consultants.
"We are pleased with the progress of our fundraising numbers," Bachmann said in a statement.
Raising money has been a struggle for Gingrich, who lost the bulk of his staff last month in a dispute over his approach to campaigning. After pulling in only $2.1 million, he spent almost $1.8 million — burning through his receipts at an 85% rate that left him with just $320,000 in cash on hand.
The campaign also carried about $1 million in debt, including nearly half a million dollars owed to a chartered jet company, Moby Dick Airways, and almost $50,000 owed to Gingrich himself, largely for use of his personal email list.
"We certainly weathered a tough storm in the spring," said spokesman R.C. Hammond. "We've come out of it and we're looking at clearing skies and our fundraising outlook has improved. We'll be the competitive campaign that no one's going to see coming."
Times staff writers Doug Smith and Maloy Moore in Los Angeles contributed to this report.