Fundraisers, not voters, attract nominees to opposition states

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Mitt Romney made the more-than-2,200-mile journey last week from Reno, Nev., to Jacksonville, Fla., to appear at the only event he had penciled in for the following day: a fundraiser where guests ponied up as much as $50,000 to see the former governor up close and personal.

The big-ticket reception was sandwiched between fundraising stops in two deep blue states that Mr. Romney has little chance of winning: Illinois, President Obama’s political backyard, where the invite said the per-person ticket price topped out at $75,800; and New York, where the former Massachusetts governor held three fundraisers, including one at a private estate with a manicured lawn, a greenhouse and an “automobile stable” — otherwise known as a garage.

The focus on the money chase this late in the game — Monday marks 50 days to the election — is a reminder of the changing nature of presidential politics.

The top brass inside the Romney and Obama camps decided early on that they would have to opt out of the public financing system to compete — a decision that freed them to raise an unlimited amount of money with their well-oiled private fundraising machines, but also has gobbled up some of the time they otherwise could spend attending more traditional campaign events.

“Given the rejection of public funds, now both presidential nominees are under incredible pressure to raise as much as they possibly can. But that detracts from their ability to speak directly to and connect with the voters,” said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics. “And their exclusive fundraising events with wealthy donors send a message that runs counter to the one they’re trying to project, which is their concern for the average Americans, the middle class, etc. Yet, apparently, neither campaign feels they can afford to pass up an opportunity to raise more.”

The Romney camp says it is following in the footsteps of Mr. Obama, who four years ago opted out of the public financing system, which allows presidential candidates to receive public funds for their campaigns if they abide by certain rules and spending limits.

Mr. Obama was the first major-party candidate not to participate in the system since it was created in 1976 in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal.

“The first thing voters should know is this new fundraising world was brought to you by Barack Obama,” said Kevin Madden, a top Romney adviser. “He broke down the dam when he bypassed matching funds in 2008, so this is how it has to be done now. Before Obama did that, once the conventions were over the campaigns could concentrate your schedule on voter contact.

“In this new environment, you have to balance some fundraising with your event schedule,” he said. “So now we have some fundraising in the morning in New York, which is not seen as a traditional battleground, before flying off to have a rally with voters in Ohio, which will be close all the way to Election Day.”

Call it the Tony Montana school of campaigning: First, you get the money, and when you get the money, then you get the power — which, in the ferocious game of presidential politics, amounts to bloodying your rival over television and radio airwaves.

“This is the first cycle where we lived under the new rules, and it is really unfortunate,” said chief Romney strategist Stuart Stevens. “But you have to live with the reality. You can’t be outspent that way and stay competitive.”

Mr. Romney spent several hours in “private meetings” at a hotel in the Boston suburbs before blasting off on another cross-country journey, the time to the Los Angeles area, where he is expected to hold the first of several fundraisers this week. Local news outlets have reported that he is scheduled to hold fundraisers in Utah, Texas and Florida.

Saying the system was “broken,” Mr. Obama went on in 2008 to raise $745 million, easily outpacing Sen. John McCain, the Republican Party nominee who received $84 million in public financing and raised an additional $238 million from donors.

The dramatic difference allowed Mr. Obama to put Mr. McCain on his heels in red states and gave him a serious advantage in swing states with high-dollar media markets, including Florida and Virginia.

This time, the money chase is much closer and Mr. Romney has outperformed Mr. Obama in fundraising in three of the past four months.

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