Romney starts to chip away at Obama’s big fundraising lead


WASHINGTON — Effectively clinching the Republican presidential nomination last month allowed Mitt Romney’s campaign to marshal larger checks and chip into President Obama’s huge lead in the money chase heading into the general election.

Romney still has a long way to go. According to campaign finance records filed with the Federal Election Commission during the weekend, Obama maintains an expansive advantage in cash on hand. His reelection effort ended April with $147 million in the bank, compared with $61.4 million for Romney and the Republican National Committee.

Romney, however, is now operating on a more level playing field. After he became the party’s presumptive nominee, his campaign last month began a joint fundraising partnership with the RNC and several state party committees. Donors can give larger checks to party committees than to candidates — a feature of the campaign laws that Obama has been able to take advantage of for months.

Romney’s campaign announced last week the joint operation had brought in $40.1 million in April (including $11.4 million that went directly to the Romney campaign). That was nearly on par with the $43.6 million the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee raised (including $25.7 million that went directly to the Obama campaign).

Romney spent $12.5 million last month, slightly more than what his campaign took in. Much of that money was spent in the pursuit of more money — nearly $2.5 million on direct mail, $1.7 million on telemarketing and $900,000 on fundraising consulting.

The campaign also spent nearly $2 million on placing ads.

The Obama campaign, far more than Romney’s, has invested in its online presence. Obama spent more than $2.3 million last month on online advertising; Romney spent $150,000.

Payroll expenses revealed another disparity. Obama, who has invested heavily in field organizers in battleground states, spent $2.4 million on campaign staff, nearly five times what Romney spent on payroll.

Overall, last month’s takes showed a slowdown in fundraising for the candidates and several major political action committees that support them. Restore Our Future, the pro-Romney group that, like other “super PACs,” can solicit unlimited contributions from individuals, unions and corporations, raised a net $3.9 million in April, a decrease of more than 50% from the previous month. It ended April with $8.2 million in the bank.

Priorities USA Action, the super PAC supporting Obama, brought in $1.6 million in April, nearly $1 million less than its March take. It ended the month with $4.7 million in the bank.

The bulk of the pro-Obama group’s money came from labor unions. Associations representing air traffic controllers, social workers and pipe tradesmen gave more than $1.25 million combined.

Investors gave more than $1.7 million to Restore Our Future, with $1 million coming from Fort Worth hedge fund founder John Kleinheinz. The group also brought in $1.1 million from energy executives, including $985,000 from Harold Hamm, the billionaire chairman of Continental Resources of Oklahoma who is the chairman of Romney’s energy advisory panel. Hamm has sharply criticized Obama for not approving the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. His company owns some of the largest holdings in oil fields in North Dakota and Montana, which could be served by the pipeline.

Some of the moneyed backers of other Republican presidential hopefuls have begun to migrate to Romney, the new filings showed. For example, Jack Caveney of North Palm Beach, Fla., a supplier of communication products and a longtime Republican donor, had been a major backer of former candidate Rick Santorum’s super PAC. Last month, he gave $100,000 to Restore Our Future.

But some of the biggest super PAC players have not yet come aboard. Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas casino magnate who, along with his family, dished out $21.5 million to a super PAC backing Newt Gingrich, did not give to Restore Our Future. Nor did Foster Friess, the biggest donor to the pro-Santorum super PAC.

American Crossroads, the heavyweight Republican super PAC founded in part by Karl Rove, posted anemic April numbers. It raised $1.8 million last month, buoyed mostly by a $1 million donation from Dallas investor and GOP mega-donor Harold C. Simmons. Simmons and his company have given $13 million total to American Crossroads this election cycle; in the last several months, he and his wife have also doled out a combined $2.1 million to super PACs supporting Romney, Santorum and Gingrich.

The super PAC ended the month with $25.5 million on hand, but the full scope of its war chest probably is substantially larger. The group has an active nonprofit arm, Crossroads GPS, which is not required to disclose its donors.