Obama Outraises Romney as Both Erode Watergate Restraints

President Barack Obama raised $738.5 million for his successful re-election effort, almost as much as the record $745 million he brought in four years earlier, Federal Election Commission filings show.

The president spent $737 million to win a second term. His re-election committee reported that it finished the year $5.9 million in debt and had $3.3 million in the bank.

His Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, finished his campaign having raised $483.5 million and his committee reported $383,275 in the bank. Romney spent $17.3 million in the closing weeks of 2012, bringing his total expenses to $483.1 million.

Final campaign disclosure reports show Obama as the top fundraiser in what will be the most expensive U.S. presidential campaign; more than $2 billion was spent by the candidates, parties and outside groups, including super-political action committees. FEC Chairwoman Ellen Weintraub said the final price tag for the entire 2012 election will total about $7 billion.

The 2012 election was the first completely privately funded presidential race since the current campaign finance system was put in place for the 1976 contest. The changes followed the Watergate scandal that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.

In raising about $1.5 billion for his two White House bids, Obama helped erode the Watergate-era campaign finance laws that offered federal funds to candidates in exchange for their agreement to limit their spending.

No Limits

Obama, 51, in 2008 was the first candidate to turn down taxpayer money for both his primary and his general election campaigns. He did the same in 2012, as did Romney.

The president reported raising $5.8 million from Nov. 27 to Dec. 31, following his re-election victory on Nov. 6. He spent $7.9 million in those weeks, including $3.4 million on events and $1.2 million on payroll.

Rufus Gifford, who led fundraising for the re-election campaign and the inaugural committee, received $21,521 during the final five weeks of 2012, more than any other campaign aide.

The president’s debts included $300,000 to campaign strategist David Axelrod and $153,432 to the political consulting firm Axelrod started, $866,216 for media production, and $254,707 to the Democratic National Committee for telemarketing.

Romney Report

Romney, 65, reported $4.7 million in receipts from Nov. 27 to Dec. 31. He paid off the remaining $1.2 million of $20 million his campaign borrowed before the Republican National Convention in August and secured by donations to his general-election bid. The campaign reported owing $825,749 to a telemarketing company.

It can take years for unsuccessful presidential candidates to clear their debts, if they do so at all. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently paid off what she owed from her unsuccessful 2008 Democratic presidential primary campaign. As of Sept. 30, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who sought the Republican nomination the same year, still had creditors waiting to be paid.

In his fundraising, Romney had help from 54 lobbyists who reported raising $12 million from July 1 to Dec. 31 for a joint effort with the Republican National Committee and state parties. The list included leaders of major trade groups, including John Castellani, president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America; Bill Graves, president of the American Trucking Associations; and Jay Timmons, president of the National Association of Manufacturers.

‘Wild Ride’

One of the Republicans vanquished by Romney during the party’s primaries, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, reported owing $4.7 million at the end of 2012, including almost $650,000 to himself, FEC filings show.

Gingrich raised $24.8 million for his campaign, including $151,814 in individual donations during the last three months of 2012, most of which was in amounts of $200 or less. Gingrich won two primaries and officially ended his self-described “wild ride” presidential bid in early May.

His campaign committee was paid $320,167 by a direct-mail firm renting his mailing list. Gingrich, 69, ended 2012 with $75,046 in his campaign bank account.

Travel Costs

In addition to the $647,519 owed to Gingrich for travel costs, his campaign’s other debts included $991,072 to Moby Dick Airways, an air charter company; $35,000 to a former House colleague, J.C. Watts of Oklahoma, for consulting; and $16,526 to another unsuccessful Republican presidential candidate, businessman Herman Cain, for consulting and travel. Cain endorsed Gingrich, a fellow Georgian, for president after ending his own candidacy in late 2011.

Cain reported $450,000 in debts, all to himself. He reported loans of $275,000 and unpaid travel expenses of $175,000. The businessman raised $16.9 million for his campaign and had $4,117 cash-on-hand at the end of December.

Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who owed $2.3 million after leaving the presidential race in April, pared down his campaign debt to $732,035, according to the FEC.

Santorum still owed $482,988 to his former chief strategist, John Brabender, and $15,000 for sponsoring Tony Raines’s Ford Fusion in Nascar’s Daytona 500 auto race in Florida last February. The race car, with Santorum’s campaign logo adorning the hood, finished 19th.

Santorum’s campaign treasury ended 2012 with $126,274 in the bank; he raised $23.6 million for his candidacy. The FEC filings show he rented out his mailing list, earning $100,000 from his own leadership political action committee and $294,608 from an outside firm.

The Republican National Committee, which reported owing $21.1 million at the start of 2011, entered 2013 with a bank balance of $4.8 million and no debts. The committee raised $390 million for the 2012 election. The Democratic National Committee finished last year $21.5 million in debt after raising $290 million. The party had $4.3 million in the bank.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.