After a summer of touting huge money hauls and appearing to overwhelm the incumbent president with cash, Mitt Romney's money advantage has vanished, usurped by a surge of grassroots support for Barack Obama and a lack of control over his own finances, new federal election filings show.
The president's campaign committee raised $85 million in August, beating by more than $20 million the previous record for the month, which he set in 2008. As he has throughout the campaign, Obama did most of his work on his own, raising $25 million from donors who gave less than $250 and relying little on the large checks that are written to Obama Victory Fund, which fill the coffers of the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee simultaneously.
In stark contrast, the Romney campaign raised a solid $66 million, but received very little small donor support despite fundraising off of the Republican Convention and a newly announced running mate, Paul Ryan. And Romney again leaned heavily on Romney Victory, his joint fundraising entity with the Republican National Committee, which inflated his total haul but kept him from matching Obama on the airwaves.
August's filings show that, in choosing to rely mostly on small donations to his own campaign committee, Obama has given his campaign much more freedom to spend how it chooses.
The ample $70,000 checks that buoyed Romney, while good for fundraising numbers, come with strings attached in the form of strict guidelines dictating how much can be spent on the presidential campaign and how much goes to state and national parties. As a result, much of the $127 million he and the RNC have on hand is off-limits to Romney despite being raised on his behalf.
So while Obama filled the airwaves with more than $65 million in advertisements in August, Romney spent just $14 million on ads--less than he did in July--and nearly emptied the war chest of his super PAC trying to keep up.
Romney's campaign committee fundraising was slow enough that to make it through the primary, which technically ends with the convention, it had to borrow $20 million from its own general election fund (the FEC considers the primary a separate election period--an individual can give up to $2,500 to a campaign per election period, or $5,000 total in elections that have primaries).
Obama's swelling finances indicate he may reach the $750 million fundraising goal he set for himself--the record amount he raised in 2008. Thus far his campaign committee alone has raised $432 million and his biggest fundraising months are still ahead of him, if 2008 is any guide. By the same token, Romney's weakening fiscal picture indicates he is almost assured of falling short of his own $800 million goal, as his campaign committee has now raised $233 million thus far.
Seth Cline is a reporter with U.S. News and World Report. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter.