Candidates Struggle to Dredge Up Funds The campaign leading up to November's general election is shaping up to be the most expensive race in history. Candidates are turning to family funds and running on fumes to get by. Are these approaches working?
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Candidates Struggle to Dredge Up Funds

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Candidates Struggle to Dredge Up Funds

Candidates Struggle to Dredge Up Funds

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Now to the subject of political money. One group says that more than $130 million has been spent on political ads already this year - that's in not even six weeks.

ALEX COHEN, host:

Senator Obama stunned everyone when he said he raised $32 million. That was back in January. Even so, cash is tight.

Mr. KEN GOLDSTEIN (Director, Wisconsin Advertising Project): The expectation after Super Tuesday was that this would be a three billion dollar election. That there would be over $1 billion spent in the presidential race alone.

CHADWICK: That's Ken Goldstein. He's director of the Wisconsin Advertising Project. No Democratic frontrunner after Super Tuesday may make it harder to raise the money the candidates need.

Mr. GOLDSTEIN: At this point, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are going to be fighting it out for quite some time. And at least on Hillary Clinton's side, it looks like she's going to have some serious challenges in raising money.

COHEN: Senator Clinton announced yesterday that she's thrown five million of her own dollars into the race. Her husband, the former president, might call it a bridge loan to the 21st century.

CHADWICK: But here's a question. She's already raised $120 million, isn't that enough? NPR's Peter Overby has the answer - apparently not.

PETER OVERBY: Clinton made the loan in late January. That was after Barack Obama had won Iowa and she had won New Hampshire, as he was raising $32 million for the month and she was raising less than 14. She gave it a good spin yesterday for reporters. She said it was all for the Super Tuesday contests.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York): We intended to be competitive and we were. And I think the results last night proved the wisdom of my investment.

OVERBY: But the campaign's chief strategist Mark Penn sounded gloomier as he looked ahead to upcoming contests.

Mr. MARK PENN (Clinton Campaign Strategist): We believe we will have the funds to compete, but I think there's no question that we're likely to be outspent again, just as we were outspend yesterday.

OVERBY: It is a startling turn around. When Clinton entered the race a year ago she brought along $10 million from her Senate fund. She also brought Democratic mega-money man Terry McAuliffe as her campaign chairman. Many Democrats expected them to soak up every dollar that donors could offer and cause the competition to wither away. But when Obama joined the race, he matched her dollar for dollar. They both set records for a contested Democratic primary.

But here's the difference. Clinton has counted on big contributions. Of all the candidates she has the most donors who've given their legal limit. That's according to the Campaign Finance Institute in Washington. Obama has plenty of big donors, too, but also a much broader base - thousands of small givers who can keep on giving.

Now, Obama's probably raised somewhere around $140 million and Clinton shouldn't be that far behind. It all makes the five million dollar loan look pretty puny.

Mr. MASSEY RICH (Center for Responsive Politics): That's it. It's not a whole lot of money. Why couldn't she raise this in the time she needed to compete?

OVERBY: It's a mystery, says Massey Rich. He's with the Center for Responsive Politics, which analyzes political money. Rich points out the candidates have learned how to work Internet fundraising like a faucet, turning it off and on. Just one day in December, Republican dark horse Ron Paul raked in $6 million online. But for Clinton that apparently wasn't an option.

Mr. RICH: For some reason, whatever it was, she and her campaign determined that they really needed this influx of cash. They couldn't wait for other people to bring it to them.

OVERBY: And Rich says that's never a decision a candidate makes lightly.

Mr. RICH: It is being spun as her visible investment in her own campaign, so that it will motivate other people to do the same. But historically, candidates spending their own money has been seen as a more desperate sign.

Another presidential hopeful summed it up 12 years ago. Republican Phil Gramm was addressing a crowd at a fundraising dinner.

Senator PHIL GRAMM (Republican, Texas): Thanks to you and your support tonight, I have the most reliable friend that you can have in American politics, and that is ready money.

(Soundbite of applause)

OVERBY: A commodity that Hillary Clinton needed and had to make ready herself.

Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.

CHADWICK: Ready money - Senator Obama has a lot more of it today thanks to a post Super Tuesday fundraising appeal. His campaign's been boasting about the amount that it has raised since the closing of the polls Tuesday evening, $7 million in a day and a half.

That's more than the $5 million Senator Clinton lent her campaign. Almost as much as the Republican front runner, Senator McCain, raised in the final three months of last year.

Anne Dunsmore is a Republican fundraiser from California. She worked on the campaign of Mayor Giuliani, who dropped out last month after going through $60 million in the last year. Earlier, I asked Anne about the biggest financing challenge facing the Republican frontrunner.

Ms. ANNE DUNSMORE (Republican Fundraiser): What John McCain has to deal with right now is serious donor fatigue, because people have been working very hard for a year at least, if not longer, on Rudy Giuliani's campaign, Mitt Romney's campaign...

CHADWICK: Fred Thompson?

Ms. DUNSMORE: Fred Thompson.

CHADWICK: Before we stepped into the studio here you told me something about the thinking of people who give to these campaigns.

Ms. DUNSMORE: Mm-hmm.

CHADWICK: And you said there's one thing that's most important to them - they want to win.

Ms. DUNSMORE: Most of the donor community - the $2,300 donors, you know, the people that max out...

CHADWICK: The people who give the most.

Ms. DUNSMORE: Yeah. Are very pragmatic people. They are actually, for the most part, very moderate socially and very conservative economically. They tend to look at this kind of thing and the litmus test is whether or not they can win.

CHADWICK: We reported earlier in the program, that people had been expecting perhaps a billion dollar campaign - a billion dollars from all the candidates.

Ms. DUNSMORE: You look surprised.

CHADWICK: Well, I do. It seems like a lot of money. It is now.

Ms. DUNSMORE: It is a lot of money.

CHADWICK: And now the campaign is obviously - it's going much longer than people thought. It's more than a billion dollars.

Ms. DUNSMORE: It's already a billion dollars. Because it isn't just what you see. It's what you don't see. It's what the unions are spending. It's what the 527s are spending. It's the C4 activity. It's the national parties. It's a lot of things that you don't see that compound that number, almost exponentially. So it's staggering. You're talking about a Fortune 500 company. You're talking about a huge industry segment here, that's giant.

CHADWICK: That's what a political campaign is.

Ms. DUNSMORE: That's before you even get down into the weeds and start accessing what it's going to cost. Senate campaigns are going to be more expensive, they're more contentious now. Congressional campaigns are going to be more contentious. And when they're more contentious, they cost more money. It's going to be staggering and you will only see the tip of the iceberg. You won't see all of it - and the majority of it.

CHADWICK: If you look at Senator McCain's situation, he ended 2007 several million dollars in debt. He had a couple of million dollars on hand. He's been open about the fact that he doesn't have much money. How quickly can he raise money now?

Ms. DUNSMORE: I think he's in a similar situation as, say, Mike Huckabee was, where all of a sudden he got all this attention. I mean, it's happened very quickly. Here they've been operating very efficiently, which is what he is known for. I mean, here's a guy who needs to be congratulated. His team needs to be congratulated on getting to where they've gotten without any money. I mean, that is - that gives great testimony to the content of what he says and who he is. They're in the process of taking a lot of incoming. And what they don't want to do is go repopulate and get themselves in the same trouble they got into in Q1 and Q2.

CHADWICK: They don't want a big, huge staff running Senator McCain's campaign and...

Ms. DUNSMORE: But they also don't want to cut their nose off to spite their face. Fundraising - after December with a January primary schedule, you're done. Your fundraising no longer drives the schedule. You plunk in where they give you 20 minutes or something, or an hour, or something like that.

CHADWICK: They're too busy campaigning.

Ms. DUNSMORE: They're too busy campaigning, and then you have the double problem with a John McCain who's never like fundraising as a priority anyway. I mean, he's done a very good job of trying to get rid of it. Ironically, I think what's happened with McCain-Feingold, is actually created a situation where there's now more money in the political process than there would've been if we had just left it with limits, and not tried to get rid of this or that, or that kind of thing. I directly attribute the unlimited money in 527s. I mean McCain-Feingold gave birth to 527s.

CHADWICK: Anne Dunsmore is a Republican fundraiser in southern California. Ms. Dunmore, thank you.

Ms. DUNSMORE: Thank you.

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