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.
Campaign filings released Thursday show Mitt Romney and Republicans have more money socked away than Barack Obama and the Democrats – but the majority of that money is in the Republican National Committee’s account, not the candidate’s.
Each party’s Victory Fund distributes money differently, partially as a function of who’s donating to them. Victory Funds are each party’s war chest for the presidential election — they pool money raised through joint efforts of the party and the candidate’s campaign, then redistribute the money back to those organizations.
The Obama Victory Fund, for example, has directed about $99 million to Obama for America, and about $104 million to the DNC — a pretty even split.
For Republicans, it’s a different story. Through the month of June, Romney Victory had transferred $80 million to the RNC, and only $15.8 million to Mitt Romney’s campaign. According to filings released Thursday, at the end of August, Romney’s campaign had $50 million on hand, while the RNC reported over $76 million.
Why has Republican money concentrated in the party’s committee, instead of the candidate’s coffers?
“They’re generally not taking in small contributions,” explained Brendan Glavin, Data Manager at the non-partisan Campaign Finance Institute. “You’re not seeing any distributions of unitemized contributions, at least not any significant distributions, through the Romney joint fundraiser. But on the Democratic side, each month there are millions of dollars in unitemized contributions that the Obama campaign is receiving through the joint fundraiser.”
“Unitemized” is another word for “small.” Small donations go right through the Obama Victory Fund to the campaign. But the Romney Victory Fund has to send more money to the RNC because it’s getting larger donations from individual contributors. Many of its donors have already given the maximum $5,000 to the Romney campaign. National party committees can take another $30,000 in donations — because the RNC can take more money from an individual than the Romney campaign, excess money from deep-pocketed donors gets directed to the committee.
Plenty of donors have maxed out to the Obama campaign too, and given tens of thousands more that eventually goes to the DNC. But Obama’s reliance on small donors keeps the take more even between candidate and committee.
“Some of those small contributions would counterbalance the large $30,000 contributions that are getting sent to the DNC,” Glavin said.
The proportion of large donors apparently dictates where money goes within the Republican Party. As a result of limits, more of it goes to committees than the candidate.
This was also the case in the 2008 campaign. The victory fund for John McCain transferred $20 million to McCain’s campaign, but it gave $120 million to the RNC. Obama’s 2008 Victory Fund, on the other hand, transferred $87 million to the candidate and $97 million to the DNC.
That distribution scheme appears to be the model for 2012
Throughout the campaign, much has been made of Romney’s disproportionate reliance on large donors. Despite receiving over a million more donations than Mitt Romney’s campaign in August, Obama’s campaign only out-raised the challenger by $3 million. Romney received over 12,000 more large donations than Obama.