Updated: 8:51 a.m.
Several political pundits predict that President Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign could report spending $1 billion by Election Day. If he does, it will only be a small fraction of the amount an off-beat White House hopeful named Lee Mercer claims to have spent on his own campaign so far.
The Texas Democrat has reported raising and spending an incredible $72 billion on his presidential bid through the end of June on his latest disclosure statement to the Federal Election Commission. Mercer said this massive sum, which is about 6,200 times larger than Obama’s reported expenditures, is not a typo. Instead it is the costs associated with some non-traditional research techniques and electioneering activities.
“We are doing a survey,” said Mercer, who lists Janet Reno as one of his campaign’s treasurers. “Everybody in the United States is on a hot-wire. It’s something like a little chip that was approved by Congress to be put into people’s heads.”
As Mercer monitors these signals, he is filing federal reports that state that much of his campaign money originated from personal funds. If so, this may mean that Forbes may have to make room for the 60-year-old student among its annual list of the world’s richest people. Its 2011 list was led by Mexico’s Carlos Slim Helu and his family with $74 billion, Microsoft founder Bill Gates with $56 billion and Warren Buffett with $50 billion.
Even though Mercer has sent signed reports to the FEC listing these large expenditures, he said the agency has never contacted him with questions. During much of the 2008 cycle, the FEC included Mercer’s billions in its campaign data along with other White House hopefuls. This cycle, however, the agency has listed Mercer’s quarterly reports as miscellaneous documents, which have kept these huge numbers from getting mixed in with less-eccentric, upper-tier candidates.
Agency officials said the FEC reviews every report that comes in, and if questions are raised about a filing, a letter is sent out requesting additional information or clarification. The agency also investigates such filings after complaints and during audits. But the FEC lists no such letters going to Mercer.
Mercer is not the only candidate purporting to outspend the Obama campaign. Former Miami mayoral candidate Raphael Herman has filed reports saying he has spent $12.9 million through the end of June. All of these disbursements are listed as repayments to himself of loans he made to his campaign.
Herman, who is best known for saying he had knife fights with Osama bin Laden, could not be reached for comment.
Although Obama may be third in spending among all candidates reporting to the FEC, he outpaced the spending of all Republicans with more than $11.5 million in expenses through June. His largest expenditures include more than $3.1 million for postage and mailings; $2.2 million for payroll and related taxes; and $1.4 million for print and online advertising.
Obama’s spending through June exceeded the $5.6 million spent by Republican Mitt Romney and the nearly $6.2 million spent by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) combined, although Bachmann did not formally declare her candidacy until the end of June. It is unknown how much Republican Rick Perry has spent on his campaign so far. The Texas governor’s first quarterly report is not due until Oct. 15 because he did not announce his White House bid until mid-August.