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GOP Presidential Candidates’ Fundraising Lags

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The Republican candidates for president have raised almost $90 million as of the end of the third quarter, about 40 percent less than the GOP candidates from 2008, public records show.

In the never-ending arms race of American political fundraising, campaign receipts are up this year in every category but one: Republican presidential hopefuls.

GOP presidential primary contenders are thus far emerging as the big losers in an election that otherwise appears largely unaffected by the recession. As of the close of the third quarter, 13 GOP White House candidates had collected just shy of $90 million, public records show — about 40 percent less than the $150 million that 10 GOP primary contenders had raised at the same point in the 2008 cycle.

Several factors explain the downturn, political observers say, including the unpredictable and wide-open nature of the primary; the importance of closely watched debates instead of advertising in the campaign’s early stages; and the growing role of nonparty outside groups such as super political action committees.

If GOP White House candidates are the big losers, in fact, PACs appear to be the big winners in the chase for political dollars. PAC receipts totaled just more than $515 million as of the third quarter, according to the FEC, a jump of about 30 percent over the same point in the previous presidential election, when PACs had raised $394 million.

Boosting the PAC total are unrestricted super PACs, which have raised $54.3 million so far. Such PACs did not exist until last year’s Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United relaxed limits on campaign expenditures. Other groups that may be siphoning money from the candidates include nonprofits affiliated with the super PACs, which face no disclosure requirements and collect money under the radar, and 501(c)(6) trade associations that also face fewer restrictions in the wake of Citizens United.

Candidates “are competing with other types of entities,” said Jan Baran, an election lawyer with Wiley Rein. But Baran also sees other factors at play, including public frustration with politicians.

“There is just a decline in political enthusiasm across the board,” Baran said. “It’s the reason the president is getting negative poll numbers. It’s the reason Congress has historically low poll numbers. The public just doesn’t have a very high regard for politicians in general. If they’re unenthusiastic, they’re less likely to contribute.”

These trends have not dented President Barack Obama’s campaign coffers so far. He had raised $88.4 million by the close of the third quarter, FEC records show, compared with $78.8 million at the same point in 2007. But there’s evidence that Democrats are worried about the considerable sums being raised by GOP-friendly super PACs and nonprofits.

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