WASHINGTON, Aug. 20, 2011 -- President Obama has headlined 127 fundraising events for himself and others, significantly outpacing the fundraising activity of the previous five presidents during their first terms, new research obtained by USA TODAY shows.
By comparison, President George W. Bush had held 88 fundraisers and President Clinton, 76, at this point in their first terms, according to data compiled by Brendan Doherty, an assistant professor of politicial science at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. Doherty, who also studies presidential activity with the non-partisan White House Transition Project, examined fundraising going back to President Carter.
The upswing reflects the soaring costs of campaigns and politicians' abandonment of the presidential public-financing system that limits what candidates can raise from private sources in exchange for receiving taxpayer money, Doherty and other experts say.
"We have entered the era of the permanent campaign," said Anthony Corrado, a campaign-finance expert at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. "This is a reflection … of the enormous sums that are anticipated for the election."
In 2008, Obama collected a record $745 million and became the first major party nominee to reject money from the public-financing program since it began in 1976. So far, he has raised $46.3 million in the first three months of his re-election campaign, more than the entire GOP field.
While Obama hit the road to raise money for endangered House and Senate Democrats in 2010 congressional elections, he has appeared at 37 fundraisers this year to benefit his own campaign, according to Doherty's tally. That's more than three times the 11 fundraisers George W. Bush held for his own campaign at this point in his first term.
Obama has split the proceeds of his fundraising this year with the national party. Donors typically pay as much as $35,800 each at the joint events, with $5,000 going to the president's campaign and the remaining amount going to the Democratic National Committee. At that pricetag, donors "don't want to meet someone who works at the White House," Corrado said. "They want to see the president."
"When the president spends so much time fundraising, he's necessarily not doing other things that are important," Doherty said.
Campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said the fundraising is not a distraction. "The president's attention, focus and schedule are dedicated to doing the job the American people elected him to do," he said.
He said Obama needs a "robust fundraising operation" to counter the full-time fundraising of his Republican rivals and spending by a new crop of outside groups that can raise unlimited amounts to influence the election.
Not surprisingly, Obama's most popular fundraising destination is close to the office. He's attended 19 events in Washington, D.C., since taking up residence at the White House, Doherty's data show. Donor-rich California, a Democratic stronghold in presidential elections, was second with 18.
The Golden State travel has paid off. Obama raised more money from Californians, $5.4 million, in the April-to-June fundraising period than from any other state's residents, Federal Election Commission records show. "It certainly reinforces the idea that he's more concerned about his own job than American jobs," said California GOP Chairman Tom Del Beccaro . "He's going to need a lot of money to paper over his bad record."