Romney self-financing looking inevitable

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Philip Klein

In January 2007, at the start of his last run for president, Mitt Romney described the idea of self-financing his own campaign as "akin to a nightmare." But when all the dust settled, he ended up loaning $45 million of his own money to his losing campaign, which he never sought donations to repay. It seems likely that history will repeat itself.

A number of news outlets have been reporting on Romney's money troubles following the release of January campaign finance reports. The basic gist: he's burning through money a lot faster than he's taking it in and he's overly-reliant on wealthy donors who max out once they reach the $2,500 giving limit. 

As BuzzFeed's Zeke Miller points out, the $6.5 million raised in January was weaker than five other months during this campaign and $5 million lower than December. Over at Talking Points Memo, Benjy Sarlin has two handy charts underscoring the inflow problem -- nearly 90 percent of Romney's cash haul came from people giving more than $200 and 67 percent came from donors who had maxed out. Both of those numbers far exceed his Republican rivals as well as President Obama. So it's no surprise that as he's starting to run out of big fish, the money is slowing.

Romney also spent a lot more money than he should have needed to in his victories in New Hampshire and Florida. In the month of January, Romney had a negative cash flow of $12.2 million -- which, according to Nate Sliver at the New York Times, "represented the worst January in the F.E.C.’s online records, which cover election cycles since 2000." And his cash on hand had dwindled to $7.7 million heading into February when he's found himself in a fierce battle to secure his childhood home of Michigan, where his father served as governor.

It's hard to see any of these factors changing. Small donors are less likely to give to Romney because people who have less money to donate to political campaigns aren't generally eager to fork over money to somebody who is personally wealthy and has the option of self-financing. Donors who max out can donate to a SuperPAC, and 84% of donors to Romney backing Restore our Future did in fact come from people who had maxed out donating to his campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. But while a SuperPAC can run ads, they cannot directly coordinate with the campaign, so they aren't a perfect substitute for standard donations.

So with the extended primary scenario currently playing out, it looks inevitable that Romney will have to self-finance again, something that he's been reluctant to do this time around but that he hasn't emphatically ruled out. The ability to do so gives him an obvious edge over his rivals. However, were he to start pumping money into his campaign it would trigger charges that he's trying to buy the presidency and undercut one of his electability arguments -- that he's a great fundraiser. His inability to attract small donors also reinforces the fundamental problem with his candidacy -- his difficulty galvanizing grassroots support.

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