This week’s New Yorker contains a story by Jane Mayer about President Obama’s 2012 fundraising efforts, or rather, the lack thereof. She describes the problems afflicting the president’s campaign, which has consistently lagged behind Romney’s this cycle, both in direct campaign contributions and super-PAC support: a lack of attention paid to donors by the president; his supposed coldness toward the practice of fundraising in general; liberals’ supposed lack of self-interest advanced by Democratic policies ; and liberals’ reluctance on principle to support super PACs.
One example of the administration’s lack of attentiveness:
Big donors were particularly offended by Obama’s reluctance to pose with them for photographs at the first White House Christmas and Hanukkah parties. Obama agreed to pose with members of the White House press corps, but not with donors, because, a former adviser says, “he didn’t want to have to stand there for fourteen parties in a row.” This decision continues to provoke disbelief from some Democratic fund-raisers. “It’s as easy as falling off a log!” one says. “They just want a picture of themselves with the President that they can hang on the bathroom wall, so that their friends can see it when they take a piss.”
Creating a sense of intimacy with the President is especially important with Democratic donors, a frustrated Obama fund-raiser argues: “Unlike Republicans, they have no business interest being furthered by the donation—they just like to be involved. So it makes them more needy. It’s like, ‘If you’re not going to deregulate my industry, or lower my taxes, can’t I at least get a picture?’ ”
The explanation Mayer offers is understandable: Obama’s personal coldness and his suspicion of big business and private financing of campaigns (surely a dose of administration incompetence, too). The laughable argument that Democratic donors “have no business interest being furthered by” political donations goes unchallenged. Best of all, literally nowhere in the piece does Mayer mention the most obvious explanation for why the president has been unable to attract supporters to match his popularity in 2008: Big donors are as disappointed with him and his economic policies as the rest of America is.
Mayer spends a great deal of time on super-PACs, explaining how Obama and his campaign at first shied away from the new groups, given their strident opposition to the enabling court decisions, but eventually agreed to some degree of cooperation:
By the end of 2011, however, Obama’s campaign managers had realized that Super PACs opposing the President posed a lethal threat. At Obama’s campaign headquarters, in Chicago, Jim Messina, the campaign manager, wrote “$800,000,000” on a whiteboard, and told Axelrod that the Republicans’ indirect-donation network was capable of raising at least that amount to defeat Obama.
In February, after considerable debate, during which some advisers urged the President to stick to his principles and preserve his opposition to Citizens United as a political issue, the campaign bowed to the new economic reality and announced that it would begin encouraging donations to Super PACs that supported Obama’s candidacy. Campaign officials even promised to send Administration members to speak to potential Super PAC donors—though Obama would not do so himself. . . .
In November, Hiatt asked the President to speak to the group, but Obama declined; the White House said that he was too busy. In June, 2011, the Federal Election Commission announced that candidates could be “featured guests” at Super PAC events, but such interactions remain a legal gray area. Hiatt believes that Obama was concerned that giving the speech would violate the spirit of campaign-finance law, which bars candidates from “coördinating” with outside fund-raising groups.
Romney has played by different rules. Last year, he declared, “I’m not allowed to communicate with a Super PAC in any way, shape, or form. If we coördinate in any way whatsoever, we go to the big house.” Yet he has come very close to crossing that line. He has communicated directly with Super PAC supporters on many occasions, stopping only at directly soliciting funds from them.
In July, 2011, Romney attended a private dinner in New York, purportedly to show his appreciation for two dozen current and potential donors.
Mayer admits that the FEC has approved such behavior, and yet claims one graf later that “Romney has played by different rules.” She highlights only one substantive distinction between the two campaigns: Romney has indeed spoken to potential super-PAC donors at an event — once, in July of 2011. Given that the Obama campaign has clearly come quite close to “crossing that line” of collusion too (see this Stephen Hoersting NRO piece for just one example of it), and they have both so far not been guilty of breaking any FEC regulations, it’s hard to take Mayer’s assertion that “Romney has played by different rules” as anything but an unjustified partisan jab.
That said, it is quite clear that Romney-affiliated groups have far outraised Obama’s. Besides the president’s aforementioned coolness toward donors, Mayer and her sources offer two explanations: Liberals shun super-PACs out of principle, and they have less to gain from such donations than conservatives do (as above). The former might well be true, although it’s a thoroughly liberal piety that requires the sacrifice of not being generous with one’s own money. On the latter, Mayer explains:
It is an article of faith among some Democrats that liberals give money to politicians for altruistic reasons, whereas Republicans make campaign contributions as self-serving investments, in order to protect future profits. “It’s a business expense for them,” Axelrod says. “They’ll make it back in no time.” Jonathan Collegio, the spokesman for American Crossroads, the Republican Super PAC, dismisses such thinking as “puerile,” arguing that there are no more “nefarious motivations” behind Republican donors than there are behind Democratic donors, which include major unions promoting their members’ economic interests.
The surrounding four paragraphs, it should be noted, are filled with unsubstantiated accusations in support of that “article of faith,” a claim Mayer spent much of a 10,000 word her thinly sourced 2010 New Yorker hit piece leveling at the Koch brothers.