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Why Are Obama And Romney Still Raising Money?

Zion Samuel |
October 7, 2012 | 8:55 p.m. PDT


Both campaigns continue fundraising with only a month left. (Creative Commons)
Both campaigns continue fundraising with only a month left. (Creative Commons)

As the 2012 presidential race reaches its final month, both the Obama and Romney campaigns are attempting to bolster enthusiasm and support for their candidates through the release of their fundraising statistics to date. The Obama campaign just announced its collective haul for September 2012, a total of $181 million dollars, a number that many news sources are talking about.

The Obama supporters are not the only ones still showing monetary love for their candidate – after the first presidential debate (which many people felt Obama lost), the Romney campaign announced raising $12 million dollars online, coming from a group composed of 60 percent first-time donors.

These latest numbers bring Obama’s total donations to $947 million, leaving many people confident that Obama will have raised at least $1 billion by the time this race is over. Though his camp has not yet released its September fundraising stats, the Romney campaign has so far raised $669 million.

These incredibly huge numbers bring two questions to mind: Why are these campaigns still raising money, and where is all this money going?

When we look at how campaign money is spent, we can see that the largest portion of money is spent on advertising. Those 30 second sound bites we are bombarded with for months, many of which become the source of jokes on Youtube and Facebook, along with administrative costs and spending to raise more funds, comprise the majority of campaign spending.

A practice common in smaller-scale elections, or ones that don’t receive as much attention as the presidential race, is “blitzing” the target voters with a torrent of ads. The idea behind this tactic is that voters will choose the name that they are most familiar with. Studies have shown, however, that these strategies don’t lend much of an advantage in bigger ticket elections. So why are both candidates spending as much as 45 percent of their campaign funds, literally millions of dollars, on these ads?

The answer is that both campaigns are waging a war over the support of the undecided voters. Now, the concentration of their ads is disproportionately high in swing states like Florida, Ohio, Virigina, Wisconsin and North Carolina. And if the Obama campaign in particular continues to spend at a rate of $20 million a week in ads alone (while Romney spends $16 million a week), Obama's ads in the 2012 race will end up costing almost twice as much as they did for the 2008 race. Within the past two weeks alone, the two campaigns combined have spent almost $60 million on ads.

A spokesperson for the Obama campaign remarked, "We need every last dollar to continue to build the largest grass-roots campaign in history, communicate with the American people and compete against the special interest money flooding in from the Republican super PACs."

Despite all the criticism of Mitt Romney’s connection to big business, according to charts from Open Secrets and the New York Times – which show campaign fund information at different stages of the presidential campaign (gathered from the finances filed by both campaigns with the Federal Election Commission), Obama has consistently been spending more.

Whichever way you look at this issue, both sides are practically hemorrhaging money. And in the media, it’s not necessarily seen as a problem. Both sides are using these numbers to promote their cause, equating huge spending with success.

In reality, it’s not these huge numbers or the myopic and oversimplified ads that such fundraising promotes that have a larger impact on voters' perceptions of both candidates, but rather moments like Obama’s apparent uncertainty in the debates and Romney’s infamous 47 percent remarks.

And even though there's barely a month until election day, the campaigns are continuing to raise money in the hopes of getting the attention of undecided voters, with the last day to register to vote coming up in a few days in many states. That money will largely be wasted.


Reach Contributor Zion Samuel here.



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