For anyone on the receiving end of President Obama’s incessant fundraising emails, it sounds a lot like doomsday. Beating Mitt Romney in the money race will be “a steeper climb than anyone thought,” Obama’s deputy campaign manager emailed supporters last weekend. Then on Monday, the Obama campaign’s top operating officer wrote frankly that Romney “has unprecedented money.” On Tuesday morning, the voice of Obama himself delivered the most frank assessment: “I will be outspent.”
But Obama isn’t actually losing the fundraising race, according to data filed with the Federal Election Commission. Despite being outraised by Romney in May and June, the total amount raised by Obama and Democratic groups eclipses Romney and his affiliated organizations by $157.6 million.
It’s a sizeable advantage, and—contrary to claims by Obama that he’ll be outspent in his reelection campaign—Romney and Republicans would have to bring in $39.5 million more than Obama each month until November to actually out raise the president—a tall order for any challenger campaign.
The fundraising totals are a collection of donations to each candidate’s official campaign, as well as the party committees and several joint fundraising organizations set up to maximize fundraising. Since Obama announced his bid for reelection in April 2011, the official Democratic Party infrastructure has raised $552.5 million. That’s mostly a function of the president himself, who has attended 178 fundraisers in that time.
Romney, by contrast, has raised substantially less—$394.9 million—since declaring his bid. The shortfall is easy to explain: Romney hasn’t been a candidate as long as Obama has, and spent much of the past year fighting a messy primary battle.
“The difference is that Obama has had two years to put assets in place and plan for election,” says Bill Allison, research director with the Sunlight Foundation, which deeply analyzed the latest fundraising numbers. Romney, on the other hand, has had to build his infrastructure from scratch much more quickly.
Yet despite the disparity, the Obama team isn’t gloating about its official cash advantage. That’s because official party money doesn’t account for Super PACs, a more shadowy path of incoming money and spending that isn’t always disclosed publicly.
“If you look at our emails, we’ve been saying this is going to be a much more uphill battle cause of Super PACs than some voters or the media realize,” says Katie Hogan, a spokesman for Obama’s campaign.
Bill Burton, a former White House aide who now runs the Democrat’s top Super PAC, Priorities USA Action, says that Super PACs will end up making the major difference in the campaign—and his group is struggling to compete. Conservative group Crossroads GPS is believed to have more than $150 million in the bank, whereas Burton’s Democratic rival group has about $20 million.
The Obama campaign, Hogan says, will continue to have an “honest conversation” with its supporters about how Democrats might be outspent by Republican Super PACs this fall. But the fundraising emails using the president’s name have—and legally can only—solicit money for official Democratic party organizations.
Regardless of Obama’s overall advantage, Democratic fundraising officials are more concerned with Obama’s monthly totals that trail Romney’s. Monthly data is released every four weeks and tends to drive the news cycle for several days—and whichever candidate raises more generally gets the more favorable coverage. Four months before the election, each of those news cycles becomes more and more valuable.