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As he campaigned toward a victory in Illinois last night, presidential candidate Mitt Romney told a little vignette about raising campaign cash.
MITT ROMNEY: I woke up this morning and found I did not have any shirts that would be appropriate for a fundraiser, so I had to wash my shirt out in the sink.
INSKEEP: As our own Ari Shapiro reports elsewhere in this program, the Republican frontrunner says he ended up ironing the shirt dry. Whatever the inconvenience, Romney has maintained his massive lead in fundraising. Reports filed at the Federal Election Commission show the scale of the advantage for Romney and a superPAC supporting him. NPR's Peter Overby reports.
PETER OVERBY, BYLINE: The reports cover the month of February. It started with Romney's win in Nevada and ended with Michigan and Arizona, which the former Massachusetts governor also won. In between, former senator Rick Santorum took three smaller states. But John Green, a political scientist at the University of Akron, points out none of these gave a fundraising bounce to anyone.
JOHN GREEN: We haven't seen the kind of momentum in fundraising that we've seen in some past elections, where a candidate wins a primary decisively or unexpectedly and then there's a sudden bonanza of funds that flows in.
OVERBY: Some quick numbers: Romney's fundraising shot up from less than $6.5 million in January to $11.6 million in February. As a percentage increase, Santorum's take came even closer to doubling - from January's 4.5 million to February's 8.9. February was not kind to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. He fared badly in the balloting and his monthly fundraising fell by nearly half, to just 2.6 million.
Green says it's a tale of two different kinds of campaigns. Romney has a traditional campaign, based on big donors. Santorum and Gingrich do not. Green says that's not the fatal flaw that it used to be.
GREEN: It's who has enough money. And at least Senator Santorum up to this point has been able to raise enough money, even though he's running behind Governor Romney, to sort of keep the campaign going.
OVERBY: And here's an even sharper twist to the story. When it came to small donors, those who gave $200 or less, the powerful Romney fundraising machine collected less than Santorum or even Gingrich. Sheila Krumholz is director of the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks political money.
SHEILA KRUMHOLZ: It's amazing that the raw dollars are lower. Small, kind of that grassroots fundraising has always been a weakness for the Romney campaign.
OVERBY: The campaign claims confidence in its base of donors who give the maximum $2,500 contributions. Krumholz has her doubts.
KRUMHOLZ: There will come a time when it's harder and harder to find those deep pockets. I think in this day and age, a successful campaign has to figure out the calculus for online small donations.
OVERBY: And one campaign that's focused like a laser on Internet giving is that of President Obama. His re-election operation raised $45 million in February. It's a big increase from January, due to a stepped-up fundraising schedule by the president.
Those high-dollar events drove down the percentage of money from small donors. But still, so far this election cycle, the Obama campaign has raised nearly as much from small donors as the Romney campaign has raised, period. But this is a year when thousands of small donors can be balanced out by superPACs that raise unlimited contributions. Again, Sheila Krumholz.
KRUMHOLZ: Such a tiny pool, about 100 donors, give 80 percent of the contributions to all superPACs.
OVERBY: So the pro-Romney superPAC finished February with $10.5 million in the bank, even though it's been spending - mostly on attack ads - at twice the rate of its fundraising. Three million dollars came from Bob Perry of Texas, a generous donor to conservative causes. But John Green, the political scientist, says the superPACs opposing Romney actually have more impact.
GREEN: The superPACs have, up to this point, been even more important for Romney's rivals, for Santorum and Gingrich in particular, because those superPACs have been able to keep those campaigns operating in key states.
OVERBY: The filing by the superPAC backing Newt Gingrich shows that it's gotten 85 percent of its money overall from Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson and his family. The superPAC supporting Santorum picked up a million dollars from Annette Simmons. Her husband, Texas investor Harold Simmons, has given to the superPAC supporting both Romney and Gingrich. And the pro-Obama superPAC showed signs of life. It raised just over $2 million. About half of that came from one donor, comedian Bill Maher.
Peter Overby NPR News, Washington.