- Associated Press - Thursday, March 29, 2012

WASHINGTON — The costly Republican primary has been draining Mitt Romney’s wallet and giving President Barack Obama time to build an expansive campaign architecture with offices in 45 states and hundreds of employees.

The bad news for Obama is he’s had to start paying for all this now.

Obama has spent more than $135 million — more than GOP challengers Romney and Rick Santorum combined — on his re-election apparatus, according to an Associated Press analysis of Federal Election Commission records. That sets up his campaign to be larger and geographically more diverse than any of his opponents’ organizations.

Through the first two months of the year, Obama spent approximately $1.1 million on computer equipment, $435,000 on rent and utilities, $305,000 on telephones and $19,000 on office supplies, according to federal reports.

Republican contenders Romney and Santorum have been watching their expenses during the GOP primaries, relying on a fraction of the amount Obama can spend on essentials like ad spending, travel fees and utility bills. But Obama’s campaign has its eye on spending by Republican-leaning “super” political action committees, which can accept unlimited and effectively anonymous contributions from billionaires, corporations and others.

Super PACs like American Crossroads, which supports Republicans, and Restore Our Future, which supports Romney, are expected to flood the airwaves with TV ads opposing Obama.

“We’re building the largest grass-roots campaign in history,” Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said from Chicago, where the president’s re-election effort is based. “You can see it here, but it’s really happening in the states.”

Of $29.5 million spent on operations since the start of the year, at least one-quarter has gone to fundraising-related expenses like postage, printing and telemarketing — an attempt to attract grass-roots donors who supported then-Sen. Obama four years ago. The campaign spent millions more on expenses like online advertising and consulting, which can be tied to fundraising.

Obama’s paid staff exceeds 500, many of whom work in the Chicago office — a figure that makes Republicans bristle.

“I think the campaign is single-handedly trying to lower the unemployment rate by hiring field staff,” Romney political director Rich Beeson said. “When they point to the fact about how many people they’ve got hired and how many offices they’ve got, they’re just trying to distract people from the reality of (how) they’re going to have a heck of a time finding people to get out and vote for him.”

A review of Obama’s balance sheets reveals a small army of paid staffers trying to help the Democratic president win a second term. Campaign filings list more than 330 paid staffers in Chicago and 200 more spread across the country, making for a payroll tab that exceeded $6.3 million during the last two months alone.

The core of Obama’s operation is packed into the sixth floor of Chicago’s Prudential building, where staffers sit side by side at long rows of tables, working from laptops and cellphones. Colorful college pennants hang from the ceiling, some representing key swing states: the University of North Carolina, Ohio State and the University of Michigan. Need a designer T-shirt or bumper sticker? Two staffers manage a swelling collection of campaign memorabilia for sale.

In one corner, more than a dozen workers field questions from journalists scattered across the country. Elsewhere, others coordinate media appearances for Obama’s high-profile supporters. Other staffers focus on fundraising, voter identification, social media and campaign-finance reporting.

Beyond the Windy City, Obama’s campaign said it’s already opened five field offices in Arizona, a state it expects to be increasingly competitive in the fall. The campaign is also taking advantage of party resources there, relying in part on the state’s Democratic Party for staffing, phones and computer equipment, records show.

Obama’s operation had $84.7 million in cash-on-hand by Feb. 29. The Romney campaign, which is hardly hurting for cash after raising about $74.8 million, says it’s not impressed.

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