Dec. 5, 2008 -- He was not quite the first $1 billion president -- but he was three quarters of the way there.
In 21-plus months, Barack Obama raised roughly $750 million from donors, surpassing all of his White House opponents this year and also eclipsing the total amount of money raised by all of the presidential candidates combined in 2004.
Post-election campaign finance reports, filed by the candidates with the Federal Election Commission Thursday, reinforced the striking contrast between the amount of money Obama had at his disposal versus Republican rival John McCain.
From Oct. 16 through Nov. 24, 20 days after he was elected president, the Obama campaign reported bringing in $110.7 million from more than a million contributors. In that time period, Obama raised more money than the McCain campaign had available to spend during the general election, which officially began after the parties held their late summer conventions.
The Obama campaign finished the reporting period sitting on $30 million. It's not clear how that money will be used. Plus, the Obama campaign advises it expects its total amount of money to increase when cash from the Obama Victory Fund comes in. The campaign reports more than $770 million in total receipts.
More people gave to the Obama campaign than any campaign in history. Obama's best fundraising month came in September, when he obliterated all records by raking in $153.1 million. Team Obama estimated its total number of donors to be just shy of 4 million.
McCain's fundraising for the 2008 cycle was not terrible. The Arizona senator raised a respectable $238 million from donors, in addition to the $84 million federal grant he received for participating in the public financing system.
In all, McCain had almost $50 million more to spend than George W. Bush did in 2004. Those were good overall numbers, but obviously not enough to compete with Obama's enormous fundraising prowess.
Obama Fundraising Overwhelms Republicans
Obama's reversal on a pledge to use public financing for the general election enabled the then-senator to collect as much money as possible for his campaign. Candidates who opt into the public financing system are limited to spending only the federal grant.
Obama became the first candidate to forgo the public financing system, a system first put in place after Watergate. During the final leg of the campaign, the roughly two months following the conventions, the Obama campaign amassed about $200 million more than McCain, who, it should be noted, also got a big funding boost from the Republican National Committee.
The Obama campaign put its fundraising to good use by expanding the political battleground map, by investing resources in traditional battleground states and even spending money in historically Republican states.
McCain, on the other hand, was forced to play defense in solidly red states and often couldn't match Obama's local number of paid staffers, campaign field offices and investment in paid media.
Obama really blew McCain away in television advertising. In all, Obama spent $100 million more on TV ads than McCain.
In the important electoral prize of Florida, Obama's TV ad spending outpaced McCain's by a 4 to 1 margin, according to ad spending figures from the Campaign Media Analysis Group through Oct. 29. In Virginia, the ratio was 3 to 1; in New Hampshire, 2 to 1; and North Carolina, 3 to 1.
The Obama campaign also spent $5 million on a 30-minute network infomercial that aired on several broadcast networks and cable stations.
Obama even was up on the air in the pricey TV markets of Chicago and Boston. Why? Because he could. The campaign wanted to reach northwest Indiana voters by buying the Chicago media market, and some New Hampshire voters by buying Boston.
McCain and the RNC, on the other hand, only used local Indiana and New Hampshire TV stations to reach voters in those states.
The End of Public Financing
Republicans have conceded that it looked like the deck was stacked against McCain because of GOP brand problems, the economic meltdown and record dissatisfaction with President Bush. But some believe McCain never had a real shot because of the financial disadvantage. They say the fact Democrats had about $400 million more than Republicans made all the difference and the campaign finance system -- is doomed.
"No presidential candidate will ever take public financing in the general election again and risk being outspent as badly as Mr. McCain was this year," wrote Karl Rove in Thursday's Wall Street Journal.
Nine days after the election, the Republican National Committee filed two lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, which amended the original campaign finance laws on the books. McCain helped write the current campaign finance law, which ironically, some conservatives think limited what the Republican National Committee was able to do on his behalf.
Record Number of Contributions, Large and Small
Through the course of the campaign, Obama and team boasted about their unprecedented number of small donors, who wrote checks of $5, $10, $10 or $100. Team Obama has claimed that about 80 percent of its money came from small donors.
A recent Campaign Finance Institute study raised questions about that claim, finding that Obama received about the same percentage of donors who gave a total of less than $200 as George W. Bush received in 2004. The study found that the number of small donors who over time had exceeded $200 had been underestimated by the campaign.
Its hard to know for sure if that's the case or not. Contributions of less than $200 are listed as unitemized receipts in campaign finance filings, meaning information about the donor is not required. Interestingly, the percent of Obama unitemized receipts stayed pretty steady throughout 2008. February through September, Obama's unitemized percentage was between 35 percent and 42 percent every month -- which would seem to indicate that the campaign's level of small donors remained steady.
Also in the New Reports
Obama's big fundraising success contrasts with the situation of his main primary opponent, Hillary Clinton, whose campaign spent more than it raised. A report filed last month shows, Clinton carries a $7.5 million campaign debt as she prepares for Senate confirmation to head the State Department in the Obama administration.
Once confirmed as secretary of state, Clinton would be barred by the Hatch Act of 1939 from soliciting and receiving political contributions.
However, a little innovative campaign treasury maneuvering could yield a faster way for Clinton to erase some of the remaining debt. On Aug. 28, Clinton's Senate account received $6.4 million in contributions that were first designated for the presidential campaign for use in the general election. That money could, theoretically, be transferred back to the presidential campaign and used to knock out vendor debt. Because the debt is for the primary period, donors who've already maxed out would not be able to redesignate their contributions for debt relief. A Clinton source would not comment on this possible scenario.
Clinton lost all opportunities to get back the $13.1 million in personal money she loaned the campaign for the primary election after the time limit for candidates paying back personal loans passed.
Under law, the Obama campaign committee would only be able to contribute $2,000 to the Clinton campaign.
The Associated Press reports that the Republican National Committee is expected to report spending $30,000 on accessories for vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. The Alaska governor and the RNC made headline after it was revealed that nearly $150,000 had been spent for Palin clothes and accessories.