Stephen Reader covers politics for It's a Free Country, WNYC's interactive politics site. He joined the station in 2010 and has also worked for Studio 360, WNYC's Peabody Award-winning show about art, culture, and creativity.
Mitt Romney may have out-raised Barack Obama in May, but both camps are still jawing over another prize: small donors.
Mitt Romney and the Republican National Committee raised over $76 million in May, the first month for the two officially joined forces, and the first month where large donors weren’t tempted by any other GOP candidates.
Barack Obama’s campaign raised only $60 million. It’s the first month in which Obama has raised less than a Republican opponent during this election cycle.
They tried to put lipstick on the pig by focusing on successes with small donors, a class of supporters that's especially important to each campaign's narrative as a sputtering economy and wealth inequality loom large.
“We'll always have more people pitching in,” campaign manager Jim Messina said in the “We got beat” e-mail. “We know that only 15 percent of Romney's May totals came from people giving less than $250, compared to 98 percent in that category for us.”
However, the Obama campaign is comparing apples and oranges. Mitt Romney raised $12 million from donations under $250 — only 15 percent of his $76 million total — but 93 percent of the number of donations was under $250. That’s much closer to the 98 percent figure touted by the Obama campaign — which, it should be noted, was not up-front with a dollar amount for money raised from small donors. (We did the math: about $30 million.)
Here’s where it gets weird: Obama was out-raised despite having over 250,000 more donors than Romney. And while Obama got $30 million out of over 11,000 people donating more than $250, Romney got almost $65 million from over 22,000 people donating more than $250. That’s twice as much money from twice as many deep pockets.
Here’s where it gets weirder: the average small donation to the Obama campaign was $54.94, while the average small donation to Romney was about $40.
In other words, there appears to be less of a “middle class” of Romney donors. The average Romney small donor is giving less than the average Obama small donor; a large donor is twice as likely to have given to Romney than to Obama. The rich give richer; the not-as-rich, not as much.
Using figures provided by each campaign, the average of all donations to Obama appears to be around $104. For Mitt Romney, the average is $240.
While the Obama campaign was a little disingenuous in the e-mail comparing small donor percentages, the larger points they attempted to make appear true: a greater number of small donors give to Obama, and a greater number of large donors give to Romney.
There will be much more to dissect as more information comes to light. Until the FEC releases the official filings later this month, all we have to go on is what each campaign says. As their press releases suggest, and the math proves, the numbers the campaigns want to talk about are just the tip of the iceberg.