Obama Campaign Shatters Fundraising Records
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
It's Morning Edition from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne, and you thought you'd heard the last of the 2008 presidential campaign? Not at all. The latest reports on campaign spending and fundraising were made public overnight. NPR's Peter Overby was up before dawn looking at the staggering amounts raised by President-elect Barack Obama, and whether small donors were indeed the backbone of his financial support. And Peter, what have you learned?
PETER OVERBY: Well, the first thing I learned was that once again, he filed such a big report that the Federal Election Commission computers are still digesting it. But the bottom line is that, through the course of the campaign, the Obama campaign raised just under $750 million.
MONTAGNE: An amazing number.
OVERBY: Yeah, once again, it just blows everything before it out of the water. It's 10 percent more than all of the candidates combined raised four years ago. And when you get into the question about small donors, it gets kind of murky; this is going to be a big point of contention. It depends partly on what the definition of a small donor is. You know, what constitutes small?
MONTAGNE: Because, of course, his campaign made much of the fact that he was getting so much money from small donors.
OVERBY: And there's no doubt that he did. He got small donors on the Internet like no one has ever seen before. It's also true that there were points in the campaign where big donors pulled him through a tight spot. So, the public perception of this is going to be important because it's going to probably influence the debate on whether and how to fix the public financing law.
MONTAGNE: Now, Peter, we've been hearing about record financing from the Obama campaign for a couple of years now. Is this more of the same?
OVERBY: It is - it's more of more of the same. This report runs from October 16th to 20 days after the election and over that time period - obviously, mostly before Election Day - the Obama campaign raised $104 million. Not so long ago, that was a good amount to run a whole presidential campaign on.
I was at a conference yesterday with some political scientists, talking about all this. And Tony Karato(ph) made the point that the Obama campaign raised more than the Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committee combined. And Karato's take on it was that the Obama campaign is a party unto itself, which is, again, sort of an idea that makes you stop and think about what things are in American politics.
MONTAGNE: Now, did the Obama campaign spend all the money that it brought in?
OVERBY: No, not at all. He finished with a surplus of $30 million, which is again, you know, another staggering figure. He has no significant debt, and he's not obliged to do anything with the money, although there are limits to it. For instance, he can't give Hillary Clinton a big chunk of money to help pay off her debt. He can give her about $2,000, and that's it.
If I were going to predict, it seems like the most logical thing thathe would do would be to keep the campaign account open, keep the campaign organization going, use that $30 million to make contributions to allies along the way - you know, these small contributions of $2,000 or so - and prepare for 2012. If he goes into 2012 with anything like $30 million in the bank, that's going to be incredibly intimidating to potential rivals. MONTAGNE: And was there anything that would make news from his presidential rival, Senator John McCain?
OVERBY: OVERBY: Well, McCain took the public financing - which Obama did not - so McCain got $84 million. You add that to the money he got in the primaries from private donors, it's a total of $277 million. So that's less than half of what Obama raised. That leaves the question: Can anybody run in the public-financing system and have a hope of winning? And if not, is Congress going to fix the system? That's where the debate's going to be.
MONTAGNE: Peter, thanks very much.
OVERBY: Thank you.