With the latest campaign dollar totals officially on the Federal Election Commission books, at least one thing is certain: President Obama will not have the huge spending advantage this November that he did four years ago.
Obama and his various committees reported raising $43.6 million in April, while presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s campaign announced pulling in $40 million in that same period.
On that all-important cash-on-hand line, Obama and the Democratic National Committee enjoy a $146 million to $70 million advantage over Romney and the Republican National Committee six months from Election Day.
Yet that two-to-one ratio is certain to dwindle or could reverse entirely as GOP donors who had been waiting for the primaries to end can now jump in with the knowledge that their dollars will go toward replacing Obama in the White House rather than attacking other Republicans.
When the Republican superPACs — the Karl Rove co-founded American Crossroads, the pro-Romney Restore Our Future — are added in along with their Democratic counterparts — the pro-Obama Priorities USA Action — that cash-on-hand advantage is nearly wiped out even today.
Still, Romney has a major chore ahead of him catching up with Obama’s on-the-ground operations in the dozen or so swing states. With the luxury of no primary opponent, Obama’s team has had a months-long head start on opening field offices, hiring staff and starting voter registration work.
Perhaps the biggest unknown is what will come of a pair of court rulings that now require nonprofit groups like Crossroads GPS, Americans for Prosperity and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that run political ads within 60 days of the election to reveal the names of their donors. The groups zealously guard that secrecy, arguing that donors whose names become public are subject to media scrutiny and subsequent political harassment.
These conservative groups have promised ad campaigns as large as $200 million each criticizing Obama yet stopping short of telling voters how to vote. But it’s unclear whether donors will be willing to hand over seven- and eight-figure checks as they have in the past if they believe their names could become public.
The groups, which are organized as nonprofits under sections 501(c)4 and 501(c)6 of the tax code, could instead report their activity as “express advocacy” under a different section of the election law to keep their donors secret — but that could potentially endanger their tax status with the IRS.
S.V. Dáte is the congressional editor for NPR’s Washington Desk.