He may have already shattered presidential fundraising records, but a question lingers over President Barack Obama’s budding 2012 re-election bid: Is there such a thing as too much money?
A growing consensus has emerged that the Democratic president, who outraised Republican nominee Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) $779 million to $400 million in 2008, could become the nation’s first politician to raise $1 billion in one cycle. But Republicans on the campaign trail and elsewhere are already working to ensure his road to 10 figures is marked with potential pitfalls.
“The fact that the Democrats are bragging about wanting to spend $1 billion is causing our own donors to get excited and send us checks,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus told Roll Call in an interview. “Spending a lot of money and winning don’t always go hand in hand. ... It’s possible that it could backfire.”
But a fat bank account is rarely a bad thing in politics. And most Democrats laugh off the suggestion that hitting the billion-dollar mark could be a political liability. At the very least, Obama’s fundraising prowess could become a distraction as the campaign progresses. At worst, Republicans say it could alienate voters already struggling with foreclosures and joblessness as the nation slowly emerges from an extended economic downturn.
“You have that number out there. That’s a huge fundraising push for us — to say this is what we’re up against,” Republican fundraising consultant Carolyn Machado said. “In this economy, people will look at that and some will say, ‘Gosh we’ve got unemployment at this level, and he’s raising $1 billion?’”
The sheer magnitude of the numbers may be difficult to comprehend.
For perspective, Obama raised $779 million in the 2008 cycle from almost 4 million donors. That’s more than the combined totals of both President George W. Bush and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in the 2004 cycle. And should he crack the $1 billion mark, Obama in one cycle will have raised roughly as much as the top Democratic and Republican candidates from the 2000 and 2004 cycles combined, according to an analysis by CQ MoneyLine.
“In one way it’s an arbitrary mark, but it’s certainly an eye-opening mark,” said Dave Levinthal, spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics. “Could he reach $1 billion? Absolutely. Will he reach a billion? It’s very early yet, so it’s impossible to say. But you’ve got to think that’s an absolutely achievable goal.”
Obama shattered the previous record of $375 million, set by Bush in 2004, largely by drawing on smaller donations from individual donors. That’s a distinction that matters, according to Levinthal.
“Not every sum of money is always equal,” he said. “There are different ways to raise $100, $1 million or even $1 billion. But of course, if you’re raising $1 billion, you’re obviously getting significant backing from folks with money. ... The question is to what extent does he balance that with small-donor donations?”