The 2012 Money Gap Grows

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Charles Dharapak / AP

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney leaves a private fundraising event at Harry Caray's Italian Steakhouse restaurant in Chicago, Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2012.

To win re-election, Barack Obama won’t be able to rely on the fundraising edge he rode four years ago. The incumbent president was outraised in July by Mitt Romney, the third consecutive month the challenger has held the advantage. The presumptive GOP nominee and the Republican National Committee raked in $101 million last month, while Obama and his allies netted $75 million — less than the $91 million they poured into advertising, technology and other expenses. 

The massive month boosted the Republicans’ campaign bank account to $186 million, a figure that dwarfs the total amassed by Democrats, who reported $127 million in the bank at the end of July. The $62 million advantage is expected to grow larger still in light of the role played by conservative super PACs and outside groups, who outspent their left-leaning counterparts in July by a margin of eight-to-one. Some 80% of GOP spending on the presidential race has come from outside groups.

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Obama still boasts an overall fundraising advantage, largely because of his head start. With no primary challenger, he was able to begin socking cash away for the general election much earlier than Romney, who didn’t formally vanquish his GOP challengers until the end of the May. But that advantage is quickly receding. Obama’s campaign has predicted all along that they would be outspent, in large part because of the flood of outside money unleashed by the 2010 Supreme Court decision that loosened campaign-finance laws. “We expect Mitt Romney and the Republicans to outspend us,” Obama wrote in a fund-raising email last week.

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Romney’s fundraising advantage marks a sharp reversal from 2008, when Obama piled up some $750 million, capitalizing on his massive hauls by becoming the first presidential candidate to decline matching federal funds. Four years ago, Obama amassed huge sums from Wall Street; his largest corporate contributor was Goldman Sachs. Despite the President’s support for the bank bailout passed under George W. Bush, such donors have fled.

Obama hasn’t compensated by aggressively courting the deep-pocketed supporters who can power a campaign in the post-Citizens United era. The President has expressed misgivings about the proliferation of super PACs. And while he’s spent a massive amount of time crisscrossing the country for fundraisers, he sometimes neglects the care-and-feeding that gilt-edged contributors have come to expect, as Jane Mayer reports. In an age when megadonors are reshaping the campaign-finance landscape, that could cost him.