Politics & Policy

Obama the Campaign Spender

What is he spending it on?

Neither fundraising nor spending for the 2012 presidential race is developing as expected. Already GOP challenger Mitt Romney has out-raised incumbent President Obama in May; the Obama campaign, once boasting of a billion-dollar campaign, now say they expect to be outraised this year. Then the Obama campaign revealed that it spent more than it took in last month — a condition most campaigns reach much later in the cycle.

Just as important as how much money is coming in is where the money is going out. The Obama campaign spent $25 million on television ads in the month of May, and ended the month no stronger in the polls than when he started — raising questions about both the effectiveness of the ads and whether the campaign is spending its resources wisely.

#ad#So just what has the Obama campaign been spending its money on? According to data filed with the Federal Election Commission, the Obama campaign spent $148.7 million in the period from April 1, 2011 through May 31, 2012. (This is separate from any expenditures by the Democratic National Committee.) In a massive spreadsheet file, the 32,787 separate expenditures can be broken down and analyzed.

THE WEB AND COMPUTING: The Obama campaign’s single largest expenditure? Online advertising. In this area, the campaign made 80 purchases totaling $26.7 million, mostly through Washington-based Bully Pulpit Interactive LLC. Expenditures in this category also include one $16 expenditure to the Illinois Secretary of State in Springfield and $300 to advertise on iHispano.com, a Latino professional networking site. The campaign only spent $99 directly on Google AdWords, although it’s quite possible one of their contractors spent additional sums on advertising on the search-engine giant.

Other computer- and web-related costs ate up large chunks of the budget as well: The category of “web site hosting” included 140 payments of $1,185,613.26, and the campaign listed 1,356 expenditures totaling $1,818,208.21 on “computer equipment,” while a separate 303 purchases totaling $969,013.24 were listed as “computer software.”

FOOD: It is claimed that Napoleon said that “armies march on their stomachs,” and the same is true for campaigns. The Obama campaign spent $96,389.41 on catering/facilities. The largest single expenditure in that category was $13,128.72 to Big Delicious Planet catering in Chicago. The campaign also spent $2,571.27 at a Subway sandwich shop in Columbus, Ind.

Nationwide, the Obama campaign has clear preferences for coffee; it spent $552.67 at Dunkin’ Donuts, $389.85 at Einstein Bros. Bagels, $229.22 at Starbucks, and only $183.15 at Caribou Coffee. The campaign has spent $239.38 at 7-Eleven.

The Obama campaign appears to run on pizza: $2,084.37 went to Domino’s Pizza, $1,774.78 went to Pizzanno’s Pizza, $1,167.45 went to Papa John’s, $834.03 went to Pizza Hut, and $362 went to Little Caesars.

(One hopes Michelle Obama won’t find out that some Obama campaign staffer in Winston-Salem, N.C., spent $239.39 at Krispy Kreme.)

#page#POLLING: The Obama campaign spent more than $1.3 million on 20 separate expenditures for polling. The single largest recipient of funds in this category was the Democratic National Committee (specified in the records as the DNC Services Corporation), for a total of $594,153.78. The other expenditures were to David Binder Research. Payments to this firm increased in the past weeks, as four payments of $38,000 are listed for May 7. Also, Democratic critics and skeptics of the pollster Scott Rasmussen should note that the Obama campaign apparently believes he’s worth listening to; their records show a $199.95 subscription to Rasmussen Reports.

PAYROLL: The Obama campaign spent more than $22.3 million on “payroll,” often listed as payments to individuals, sometimes listed as payments to ADP Payroll Services. The single largest expenditure designated to an individual employee is to campaign manager Jim Messina with one payment of $8,109.41. But it is worth noting that most of the payroll expenditures to individual campaigns are not dated and they are irregular from one pay period to the next; Messina’s payments range from the above peak to $5,147.05 to $4,825.51, a payment which is dated October 14, 2011.

#ad#Other large individual payroll expenditures went to Michael Slaby, chief innovation and integration officer at Obama for America with one payment of $6,844.25, and Obama campaign’s deputy manager Julianna Smoot has a payment of $6,399.37. Elizabeth Lowery is listed as the campaign’s deputy finance director at Obama for America, but expenditures in the FEC report go to a “Sarah Lowery,” including one payment of $7,403.88. Again, the month-to-month amounts paid to these employees vary.

Payroll processing, the calculating, printing, and distributing of paychecks for those that receive paper checks or administering direct deposit for employees with that option, cost the campaign $23,606.57. Payroll taxes cost the campaign $8.96 million.

AXELROD: The man most publicly associated with the Obama campaign, the president’s longtime strategist David Axelrod, is not directly paid by the campaign. Instead, his firm, Axelrod Strategies LLC, is listed as receiving 24 payments totaling $181,582, with most months including a $15,000 payment for “consulting/professional services/media” and then a separate payment of a three- or four-digit sum to cover travel and lodging costs.

POSTAGE: Ironically, in an era of e-mail, postage was one of the campaign’s largest expenditures, totaling more than $14.7 million.

GAS: The campaign has made 354 purchases totaling $106,660.54 categorized as “fuel costs,” while utilities have cost the campaign $98,061.17. (Of course, the president did warn in 2008 that “electricity prices will necessarily skyrocket.”)

TRAVEL: Obviously, campaign staffers have to get from event to event around the country, and the Obama campaign spent more than $1.89 million on travel and lodging during this time period. The single largest payment listed is to the Holiday Inn in Chicago at $85,672.50; other high payments include $7,923.77 to the Red Roof Inn in Chicago, $7,056.13 to the Westin hotel in Charlotte, N.C., $3,705.70 to The Hard Rock Hotel Chicago, $3,313.25 to the Palmer House Hilton in Chicago, and $2,792.09 to the Ko Olina Beach Resort in Kapolei, Hawaii. The records do not indicate how many rooms were involved in each charge. The single largest hotel bill outside of Washington and Chicago occurred May 12 at the Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee, $7,084.59 — suggesting that at least some Obama-campaign staffers were spending time in Wisconsin one month before the recall election. Perhaps they saw the conditions on the ground in that state this spring and became wary about the usefulness of a presidential visit.

Accidents happen on the campaign trail; the records indicate a $495.70 payment to the Avis Vehicle Damage Claims Department in Atlanta, Georgia on October 25, 2011.

United Airlines was the favorite airline of the campaign, with 979 charges totaling $346,119.33. Coming in second was American Airlines, with 738 charges totaling $254,496.61.

#page#MEDIA: We now know which magazines and newspapers the Obama campaign thinks are worth subscribing to: $631.20 on New York Times subscriptions, $140 to the Wall Street Journal, $69.93 on the Dallas Morning News, $63.84 on the Boston Globe (not counting one separately listed $0.99 expenditure that is undated), and $29.97 to The New Republic. Also in the “publications/subscriptions” category is one $9.99 expenditure to Amtrak. (Perhaps that is for Amtrak enthusiast Vice President Joe Biden.)

By far the largest subscription cost to the Obama campaign was the news-archive service LexisNexis, totaling $69,461.73.

#ad#RENT: The campaign has made 400 expenditures in the category of “rent/occupancy,” totaling $1.19 million.

Rent on the Obama campaign’s Chicago headquarters appears to be $83,333.33 per month, although two payments were made for $85,416.67. The next most expensive rent payment is $12,908.24 for one of the campaign’s New York City offices.

In many states, the Obama campaign is renting space from the state Democratic party. The Democratic party of Virginia appears to have negotiated the sweetest deal; they received one payment of $9,500 and a total of $14,050 from the Obama campaign so far.

The Indiana Democratic party collected $13,675 in rent, and the only other state parties to pass five figures were in Florida ($10,600) and Ohio ($10,400). The Obama campaign is also renting from a private corporation in Miami Beach, paying $14,231 in rent so far.

After that, the campaign paid rent amounts of $8,100 to Nevada Democratic party, $7,900 to North Carolina Democrats, $7,200 to the Colorado Democratic party, and $7,200 to Pennsylvania Democrats. The campaign has paid $7,360 to the Alaska Democratic party, which is more than the $5,500 they sentthe Iowa Democratic party or the $4,800 they paid to New Hampshire Democrats.

The cheapest rent payment went to the Democratic party of DuPage, Ill., which received three payments of $100.

VIDEO PRODUCTION: The category of “video production” is one of the smaller categories of spending, with 32 expenditures totaling only $14,024.39, including a $4.99 payment to C-SPAN, presumably for use of archival footage.

PHOTOGRAPHY: The Obama campaign spent $4,579 on photography on 34 occasions, which seems modest, until one realizes that President Obama is probably the most photographed individual in the world.

There are several other expenditures that don’t quite fit the above categories:

‐ No wonder the Obama administration wants to crack down on credit-card companies; they paid $44,827.75 to American Express and Bank of America in “credit-card fees.”

Finally, if you’re enough of a critic of the president to call the actions of his campaign “evil shenanigans,” then you have at least one piece of evidence, in that one expenditure of $17,550 indeed went to “Evil Shenanigans, Inc.” . . . but the expenditure is classified as “staging, sound lighting.”

— Jim Geraghty writes the Campaign Spot for NRO.

EDITORS NOTE: This article has been amended since its initial publication.

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