Republicans announced their June fundraising numbers a week ago: McCain raised $22 million (his best month yet) and the RNC cashed in $27 million. That Democrats did not release their own numbers until today prompted speculation that the Democrats were disappointed with their own results. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Obama had “only” raised $30 million during the month of June. But this morning, the Obama campaign and the DNC came out with very strong numbers for the month of June: $52 million and $22 million respectively.
When Obama opted out of the public financing system, some believed he could bring in even more money; after all, the candidate did cash in $55 million in February. But there is no question that this $52 million is a very strong effort: it more than doubles his May fundraising and it dwarfs McCain’s otherwise solid $22 million.
But it is the DNC’s number that is particularly impressive: In May, I explained that the disparity between the two national party committees was truly worrisome for Democrats. The DNC had only raised $4 million and had the same amount in cash on hand compared to the RNC’s $53 million! Now, the DNC’s cash on hand is up to $20 million, compared to $67 million for the RNC. The margin is comparable, but at least the DNC can play a role.
That the DNC seriously picked up its fundraising effort in June is not surprising. The primary campaign monopolized donors through the first half of 2008, and the Clinton and Obama fundraising juggernaut left the DNC no breathing room. Once Obama wrapped up the Democratic nomination on June 3rd, donors turned their attention to other causes again, and it is possible that a number of Clinton backers chose to contribute to the DNC rather than the Obama campaign. Another explanation is that the May discrepancy was so massive that high-profile Democratic donors woke up to the reality that Obama’s financial advantage would be worthless if the DNC cannot get off the ground.
A month ago, this led to the GOP holding a significant advantage in the cash on hand department. As of the end of June, the disparity is reduced: Democrats have a cash on hand total of $92 million (including a stunning $72 million for the Obama campaign) and Republicans have a cash on hand total of $95 million ($67 million in the RNC’s hands, $27 million in McCain’s). As the DNC’s haul now looks to be roughly on par with the RNC’s, Democrats will surely gain an advantage in the next month or two if the Obama campaign continues at the same pace.
What does this mean for the months ahead? While $50 million of the $52 million Obama raised are primary funds, TPM reports (and I did not know this) that because Obama has opted out of public financing he is allowed to roll over whatever primary funds he has left by his convention to be used in the fall. And don’t forget that all donors who have contributed the maximum amount of $2,300 for Obama’s primary campaign can donate the same amount to the general election campaign. Since Obama only raised $2 million in general election funds in June, it appears that they have not yet tapped into this resource.
If Obama continues to fundraise at the same rhythm, he could still cash in $200 million to supplement the $72 million he has left. That is a very significant amount and points to two final thoughts that are sometimes overlooked in analyses of Obama and McCain’s financial situation:
Obama’s fall dominance: We are used to a candidate’s financial dominance expressing itself over the summer. This is what happend in 1996, when Bill Clinton swamped Bob Dole, and in 2000 and 2004, when Al Gore and John Kerry had no money in August to respond to Bush and to the Swift Boat veterans. But this year, the calculations are different: it is only in the fall that the Obama financial machine could really come to dominate. Obama spent $23 million in June. Make that even $35 million for July and August and he could have as much as $200 million to spend in the final stretch, in September and October. On the other hand, the McCain campaign will be limited to $84 million of public funds in those two months, however much money he has to spend over the summer.
McCain’s lack of control: It is not entirely appropriate to add up the cash on hand of the campaigns and of the parties as if they were equivalent. For one, not all of the money the RNC and DNC possess will be used in the presidential election. Most of it will, certainly, since the national parties become an extension of the presidential candidate’s apparatus, but adding up totals might not be appropriate. Second, national parties and campaigns cannot coordinate their efforts: the ads funded by the RNC and DNC are independent expenditures, for instance. That Obama has $40 million cash on hand more than McCain is not alleviated by the RNC’s dominance over the DNC and it gives him a huge advantage. Simply put, Obama’s campaign will have much more control over its message, its ads and what states it should invest in.