Campaign Finance Reports Reveal GOP Disparity

Campaign finance reports released Saturday offered the first detailed look at the haves and the have-nots among the Republican presidential candidates, with just over a year left in the race for the White House. The deadline passed at midnight Sunday for the candidates to disclose how much money they’ve raised and spent over the past three months.

Two of the top Republican contenders, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, have brought in more than $30 million combined. Meanwhile, businessman Herman Cain who has surged into the top tier of candidates in recent polls raised significantly less.

The financial reports show how flush some Republican candidates are with cash — and how nearly broke others are — as campaigns increasingly need money to pay for TV ads and staff in the final weeks before contests in key primary and caucus states. Reports on two of the biggest money-raisers so far — Romney and President Obama — reveal millions in contributions from party devotees and small donors alike.

The Obama War Chest

Reports filed late Friday at the Federal Election Commission offered a mixed financial picture of the field, with Obama raising more than $70 million between his campaign and the Democratic Party. At the same time, Republican candidates raised a combined $52.6 million, more than the $42 million Obama brought in through his campaign alone.

The Obama fundraising effort is easily outstripping any of his prospective Republican rivals. The Obama campaign’s quarterly filing shows that it’s holding spending down, and as of Sept. 30, it had $61.4 million cash on hand.

Obama has been faced with declining poll numbers and a weakened economy during the summer, prompting the president to recently call himself the “underdog” in the race. However, his formidable re-election war chest will help him combat any Republican challenger. His campaign reports raising $42 million, which includes $20 million from small donors – those who gave $200 or less. Obama can save most of the money raised for next year because he does not face a primary opponent.

When he does face the GOP nominee, however, the financial edge may not remain as clear, NPR’s Mara Liasson tells All Things Considered host Robert Siegel.

“When there is a Republican nominee, there’s going to be a tremendous amount of money from Wall Street, which appears to have turned against Obama and because of the new Citizens United ruling where rich individuals and corporations can give unlimited undisclosed donations to both side,” she says. “I think this will be a very competitive election money-wise, and he will not have an advantage.”

Almost Tied

Romney reported roughly $14 million in contributions during the July-September period and had nearly $15 million on hand. Perry, who briefly surged to the top of the Republican presidential field this summer, has roughly the same in the bank, having raised about $17 million during the first few weeks of his campaign.

The virtual tie between Romney and Perry for cash on hand means the two have similar amounts to spend on ads and travel in the final weeks heading into the nominating contests in the key early primary and caucus states.

Perry is expected to dig into his campaign funds to buy TV ads to Romney’s record on health care, abortion, gay rights and job creation. His campaign suggested this week that the moment for a barrage of attack ads was near.

Romney, the former governor of a predominantly Democratic state, has been attacked for his shifting positions on social issues that are held dear by conservative voters who dominate the Republican primary season.

Some Struggle To Compete

Other Republican candidates are saddled with debt, such as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann.

The reports didn’t capture the tens of millions raised by new, outside groups known as super political action committees, which can collect unlimited amounts of money to influence elections. Leading contenders Perry and Romney have at least one superPAC each working to boost their candidacies, and another group is backing Obama’s re-election bid.

Texas Rep. Ron Paul, a favorite among libertarians, collected $8.2 million, spent $7.5 million during the period and has no debt. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum reported raising more than $700,000 during the quarter, spent nearly $750,000 and owes about $70,000.

But some in the Republican field owe much more, particularly as their campaigns struggle to compete with big money that fuels increasingly expensive elections.

Gingrich owes the most among all candidates who have filed so far, with more than $1.1 million in debts for expenses like office supplies, direct mail and outside experts — including $5,250 for a “Hispanic outreach consultant” and $724 for a “social media consultation.” His campaign raised about $793,000 this period, about a third of which came from small donors.

Bachmann, a favorite among social conservatives and the low tax, small government tea party movement, reported nearly $550,000 in debt after raising $3.9 million. Her expenses included more than $130,000 spent on chartered flights with Moby Dick Airways of Virginia. She also owes former campaign chair Ed Rollins about $30,000.

While businessman Cain’s report said he raised $2.8 million and has $1.3 million in the bank, the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO loaned his campaign $675,000, most of it borrowed in the spring.

Candidates with much more cash on hand have more money for advertising and overhead costs. But it also means more flexibility: Romney spent about $240,000 in private jets, although he has tweeted in the past about flying commercial on low-cost air carrier Southwest Airlines.

NPR’s Peter Overby contributed to the report, which contains material from The Associated Press

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