Follow the Money: Today’s Installment

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Today is the deadline for the campaigns to file the detailed breakdowns of their first-quarter fundraising and spending. Some have done it in the last 72 hours or so, and in the first analysis (there will be much more in coming days as reporters and watchdog groups dig into the fine print), we are learning some interesting things:

THE REPUBLICANS: John McCain’s “burn rate” is astonishing. His report reveals that his huge campaign operation is all but running on empty financially. Having raised an anemic $13 million in the first quarter (the campaign yesterday updated the earlier $12.5 million figure), it turns out that he has spent $8 million, or about two-thirds of it. Where has the money gone? Much of it to high-priced campaign consultants, a big campaign headquarters (renting for $79,885 a month, from what I can tell from the report) and a staff of 125, which is enormous at this early stage of the game. The LA Times does the math and finds McCain spent $2.42 million on salaries and payroll taxes, compared with Mitt Romney’s $1.9 million and Rudy Giuliani’s $1.34 million.

The Washington Post notes that the campaign spent $16,317 in catering costs for one event alone at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. My own quick read of the report suggests that the campaign’s entertainment style tended more toward the Mandarin Oriental than the Holiday Inn. And valet parking alone was a major drain. But the fact is, as one longtime Clinton operative once explained to me, major donors are not impressed by fancy trimmings at fundraisers. They are smart enough to know it’s their own money that’s getting spent on cocktail weenies, rather than getting out the vote. McCain’s people say they are paring and reorganizing their operation, to cut costs and add new muscle to the money side. The report suggests it’s none too soon to do that. Frontrunner-itis is a bad thing to get when you’re the frontrunner; it can be fatal when you’re not any more.

Mitt Romney’s report also shows a high burn rate, but he raised nearly twice as much as McCain, and has almost as much cash left as McCain raised. He led the field in the amount spent on advertising at this point, but campaign pros say that’s a reasonable decision, given his low name recognition. Rudy Giuliani is similarly situated
with cash on hand, and given his late start, has impressive totals. Real Clear Politics lays it out this way.


We’re still waiting for the electronic filings from the top two in the field. The early headlines about Barack Obama’s fundraising totals focused on jaw-dropping amounts he collected from small contributors, the grassroots and through the internet, But I’m told that the folks at Hillary Clinton’s headquarters are bracing for news in today’s report that they will find even more worrisome: He is making significant inroads into her base of big donors, the people she has been wooing for over a decade. The Washington Post has an interesting story today on that score, which adds to the Chicago Tribune’s account on Friday.


John Edwards has now filed his report showing he has been relatively frugal. He raised, as earlier reported, better than $14 million and still has nearly $11 million on hand. As commenters have noted via Drudge, Hillary Clinton–also showing a slower burn than I might have thought–appears to be in a different universe from everyone else, with $31 million on hand, but it’s important to note that only $24 million of that can be spent on the primary. Chris Dodd has sent out an e-mail claiming fourth place, with nearly $7.5 million cash on hand, of which about $6.4 million can be spent on the Democratic primary. Joe Biden’s campaign, reporting about $3 million on hand, insists that is enough to be competitive through South Carolina. As best I can tell from searching the FEC website, Obama hasn’t filed yet.

UPDATE2/SIDENOTE: Over the weekend, I also picked up some grumbling among Democratic donors over John Kerry’s decision to move $7.2 million in leftover funds from his presidential campaign to his Senate re-election account. This is perfectly legal, but considered somewhat unseemly. Some of the people who gave that money would have preferred to have seen it donated, for instance, to last fall’s congressional candidates. Or even better, spent in 2004 in an effort to win the votes that might have put Kerry over the top. Still a mystery why he hung on to the money.