It's A Slow Season For Campaign Fundraising

The books closed at midnight on another reporting period for the Federal Election Commission, as candidates and political action committees continue to fill their coffers for the 2012 election. Host Scott Simon talks with Tony Corrado, professor of government at Colby College, about campaign fundraising for the 2012 presidential race.

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SCOTT SIMON, Host:

The books closed at midnight on another reporting period for the Federal Election Commission. As candidates and political action committees continued to fill their coffers for the 2012 election, early signs show fundraising this year has been slow compared to past election seasons. Political scientist Tony Corrado tracks political money, and he also teaches government at Colby College, and joins us now from Newport, Rhode Island. Professor, thanks so much for being with us.

TONY CORRADO: Pleasure to be with you.

SIMON: And have changes to the — apparent changes I guess we should say - to the Republican primary calendar affected fundraising compared with past cycles?

CORRADO: Well, I think this year what we're seeing is that the Republican fundraising race started more slowly than in the past, in part due to the fact that the economy is tougher this year. I think in part due to the fact that many of the candidates were looking at a calendar that they thought would be pushed back into February and March. And some of the changes that are taking place now suggest that calendar will be moved forward so that there is going to be much more pressure on them to start raising money between now and the end of the year.

SIMON: Let me follow up on something you touched on. As everybody knows, there's a recession going on. Museums, art galleries, food banks - so many charities are reporting a decrease in public support. But what about political campaigns?

CORRADO: Well, I think in terms of political campaigns, we're at the point right now where we're seeing much of the money come from the larger donors, the core supporters of some of these candidates, but it's clearly the case that we're not on the path we saw, say in 2007, where we had a record amount of money raised by the candidates early on.

In 2007, 2008 for example, the leading Republican candidates were raising anywhere from 50 to 100 million dollars by the end of the year before the election, and I don't think any of these candidates will come close to that this time around. Where we'll really see the difference is as we get a little later in to the year, in the smaller donations, the contributions of a hundred or 200 dollars, and I expect that that will be much slower than it has been in the past.

SIMON: Let me follow up on that because the small donors were an important part of President Obama's campaign appeal four years ago. What are the indications you see about that base of donors now?

CORRADO: I think generally he will still have a very strong base of small-donor support. We will still see lots of giving on the Internet, but I don't think it'll be the extent that we saw in 2008. The excitement about his campaign, the historic nature of the candidacy, the highly competitive race we had in 2008 did a lot to spur a public interest, and I think one of the things we'll see in this election cycle is more of the work of continually reminding people to give that will build up a large number of small donors.

SIMON: Among the president's potential Republican challengers, who is sitting on the most money right now?

CORRADO: Well, right now I think we have to say that it is Mitt Romney. Romney has done well in fund raising so far. He's on a pace to raise about as much money as he did last time, yet without adding in millions of his own dollars as he did last time.

SIMON: And I know you want to be careful about extrapolation but do you see any correlation between the amount of money a candidate can raise for the primaries, and the kind of public support they actually enjoy?

CORRADO: Well, that's an interesting question, Scott, because if you look traditionally, there was always a rule in presidential campaigns, which is that the candidate who raises the most money by the end of the year before the election typically was the candidate who went on to win the nomination. Yet in the Republican party last time around, we saw that that rule wasn't the case at all.

In fact, it was Mike Huckabee who raised much less money than any of the other major contenders who won Iowa, and ended up being one of the last candidates standing. So it's not the case that the person with the most money is necessarily going to be the front runner in the race once the voting begins.

SIMON: Tony Corrado, professor of government at Colby College. Thanks so much for being with us.

CORRADO: Pleasure to be with you, Scott.

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