Obama campaign’s lame money boast may underscore larger problem

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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Online donors to the Obama 2012 campaign provided at least enough money this month to hire 244 new organizers, the campaign’s website said Monday morning. Yet those new organizers will cost only about $5.2 million, according to data provided by the campaign.

The urgent online requests, and the paltry claim of online success, suggest the Obama campaign is having difficulty winning donations from the low-income end of its political coalition, which pairs wealthy culture-industry entrepreneurs with many poor working-class people.

Each organizer costs the campaign $32,000 a year, says the website. But there’s only eight months left in the campaign, so each organizer will cost the campaign about $24,000 by the end of November.

At that price, the campaign can hire 244 organizers for $5.2 million.

The campaign has certainly raised far more money this month — partly because the president has attended numerous high-dollar fundraisers.

The month’s actual fundraising haul won’t be announced for several days.

The announcement of 244 new organizers came after days of increasingly urgent appeals for donations — and of cheesy offers of spot prizes — from President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, campaign manager Jim Messina and others as the quarter ended March 31.

“I need you with me on this one. Tonight’s deadline is our biggest yet, and I need everyone pitching in. Give $25 or whatever you can,” said a March 31 e-mail signed by Obama.

“If you chip in to support the campaign before the big deadline tomorrow, you’ll also be automatically entered to have dinner with my husband,” said the first lady’s March 30 missive.

“I had the chance to go to one of these ‘Dinners with Barack’ just a few weeks back — and trust me, you don’t want to miss out on it,” she added.

“I’m not going to waste your time here: March 31st is this campaign’s most critical fundraising deadline so far,” said a March 29 message from Biden. “Whatever we’ve got in the bank on Saturday night is what we’ve got for the next phase… [and] you can bet that it’s going to be the toughest phase yet.”

Most of the campaign’s fundraising comes from exclusive parties where tickets are sold for up to $38,500 to wealthy lawyers, heirs, Wall Street players, sports figures, actors and Silicon Valley executives.

Obama has scheduled a remarkable number of these fundraisers, and so has his wife, who did only a few events prior to the 2010 election.

The president held 14 fundraisers in January and 15 in February, according to a tally maintained by CBS Radio. He held even more in March. On March 16, for example, he held five fundraisers, generating up to $5.5 million.

The fundraisers bring in a lot of money. The campaign took in $29 million in January and $45 million in February.

But there’s plenty of evidence that the campaign isn’t bringing in as much money as it wants.

For example, data from the campaign’s earlier quarterly reports to the Federal Election Commission show that Obama’s spending is growing faster than revenues.

“The Obama campaign’s high burn rate doesn’t come from large television buys, phone banks or mail programs that could be immediately stopped … [but] from huge fixed costs for a big staff and higher-than-expected fund-raising outlays,” according to a March 14 article by Karl Rove, chief political strategist for George W. Bush.

In the second quarter of 2011, Obama’s “campaign spent 25% of what it raised… while Mr. Bush’s campaign spent only 9% in the second quarter of 2003,” Rove said. Since then, the spending pace has accelerated, he said, pointing out that in January “the Obama campaign spent 158% of what it raised, while the Bush campaign spent 60% in January 2004.”

Also, his supporters initially predicted a $1 billion reelection fund, but campaign staffers are quick to deny that is a goal.

Rove argues that one reason the re-election campaign might be running lighter-than-expected on cash is that many of Obama’s 2008 supporters are not opening their checkbooks this time around.

“Fewer than 7% of 2008 donors renewed their support in the first quarter of his re-election campaign… [but] in the first quarter of the Bush re-election campaign, for example, about 20% of the donors renewed their support,” Rove said.