Obama outpaces Bush in second-term fundraising

6:04 PM, Mar 16, 2014   |    comments
(SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
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WASHINGTON (USA TODAY) - President Obama, racing to aid his party up and down the ballot ahead of midterm elections, has held 45 political fundraisers since beginning his second term - nearly double the number that his predecessor George W. Bush headlined during the same time period in his presidency, an analysis provided to USA TODAY shows.

In the last three weeks alone, Obama has attended seven fundraisers, four of which benefited the Democratic National Committee, which ended January mired in nearly $16 million of debt.

Many more are on the way.Three fundraisers are scheduled this week in Washington and Miami. In all, the White House has committed to 30 events through June to help the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Governors Association and the two party committees focused on House and Senate races.

At stake: Obama's second-term agenda. Republicans, who currently control the U.S. House, need a net gain of just six seats to take control on the Senate. A Republican Congress would have the power to thwart Obama's priorities on everything from boosting the federal minimum wage to environmental regulation. Republicans also have pledged to attempt to roll back key first-term initiatives, such as the controversial health care law.

"We don't have time to waste," Obama told donors Tuesday at a $32,400-a-head fundraising dinner in New York for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. "I want to squeeze every last bit of work that I can during the remainder of my term."

Election Day is still more than eight months away, but vulnerable lawmakers expect an onslaught of spending by super PACs and other outside groups to influence Senate races. One conservative group, Americans for Prosperity, already has spent $32 million since last August, much of it to blister Democratic incumbents over their support of the health care law. The group is not subject to the contribution limits that prohibit an individual from giving more than $32,400 to a party committee in a calendar year or $2,600 to a federal candidate for a primary or general election.

"With outside groups raising money in limitless amounts and the president having to raise money for his party in regulated amounts, it takes a lot of time to raise money," said Brendan Doherty, a political scientist at the United States Naval Academy who analyzed the presidential fundraising data. "He has to start early."

Doherty's data show Bush attended 23 GOP fundraising events from Jan. 1, 2005, to March 12, 2006. Many of Bush's events helped individual candidates. So far, Obama's schedule focuses on stockpiling cash for party committees. His low approval ratings could make him a liability on the campaign trail for vulnerable Democratic incumbents in Republican-leaning states, such as Louisiana and Arkansas.

Doherty, the author of The Rise of the President's Permanent Campaign, has tracked presidential fundraising going back to President Reagan. President Clinton was the busiest second-term fundraiser during the period examined, taking part in 95 events, Doherty's tally shows.

In a concession to the changed political climate, Obama also has agreed to appear later this year at events hosted by the House Majority PAC and the Senate Majority PAC, two super PACs raising unlimited campaign money to elect Democrats to the House and Senate, respectively.

White House officials say the step is necessary to help combat the records levels of outside money flowing into elections.

The decision also is a sign of Obama's evolving position on campaign-finance regulations. He strongly denounced the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision that helped pave the way for super PACs, but two years later allowed his former aides to establish a super PAC to raise unlimited amounts in support of his re-election.

Neither the White House nor Democratic campaign committees have disclosed how much the president's stepped-up fundraising has brought in to date.

"The president's fundraising for the Democratic committees is certainly an asset for all of us," said Michael Czin, a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee.

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