The Obama campaign on Wednesday gave us bare-bones second-quarter 2011 numbers for Obama for America (the actual re-election campaign, which raised $47 million) and for the Democratic National Committee (essentially an arm of the campaign, which raised $38 million.) But they're not making their actual campaign filing public until the Federal Election Commission deadline late Friday. This timing allows the campaign to control the message by releasing numbers it likes (like "98 percent of all donations that came in were $250 or less) while not giving critics any ammunition -- such as who the big donors were and how much they gave.
Even without OFA's donor list, we can get a good idea of the Obama campaign's real financing picture by looking at the monthly reports the DNC has filed already this year. Again, the DNC is little more than an arm of the Obama campaign -- Obama's high-dollar fundraisers around the country mostly benefit the DNC. Combing through the data gives you a very different picture than the one Messina paints.
Of the $31.1 million the DNC has raised in contributions this year, almost two-thirds -- $19.3 million -- has come from individuals giving $10,000 or more, according to my analysis of FEC data. So, judging by all available data, rich people cutting big checks are providing an overwhelming majority of Obama's re-election money.
Obama's reliance on rich donors cutting five-figure checks isn't unusual or surprising, but it does clash with the image his campaign puts forward. Messina's web videos, like most of Obama's fundraising emails, push the myth that the campaign is mostly funded by ordinary people cutting $50 checks. It may be true that 98 percent of donations to the Obama campaign were $250 or less, but that's not a very telling statistic.
First, a donor could cut 20 $250 checks to contribute the $5,000 maximum to the campaign. More importantly, Messina never broke down that 98 percent and 2 percent by dollar amount. Maybe half of the campaign's money came from that "richest 2 percent," to adapt an Obama phrase.
Also, Messina was only parsing contributions to Obama for America (where donors are limited to $2,500 for the primary, and $2,500 for the general), and not the contributions to the DNC (where donors can give $30,800 per year), thus skewing the data toward smaller contributions.
This small-dollar donor myth is part of Obama's effort to portray himself as the scourge of special interests. Obama proxies on Wednesday were casting his $86 million haul in the context of "secret" money promised by libertarian billionaires Charles and David Koch. The narrative is clear: Obama is the man of the people, while Republicans are the party of Big Business. That's half-right.
DNC donors this year include plenty of Hollywood types like Stephen Spielberg and George Clooney, but also "fat cat" bankers from Goldman Sachs, Citigroup and Deutsche Bank. Throughout the DNC donor list you'll find politically connected businessmen profiting off of Obama's stimulus and energy policies. Wind power developer Thomas Carnahan (whose father was a governor, mother was a senator, brother is a congressman and sister was secretary of state) gave $30,500 to Obama, who has created a handful of new subsidies for wind power.
"We didn't accept one single dollar from Washington lobbyists," Messina also bragged. This is technically true, using a narrow definition of "Washington lobbyist." For example, Cantwell Muckenfuss is a lawyer at the K Street lobbying firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. He has long been a registered lobbyist with clients including Walmart and General Electric. Last summer, Muckenfuss de-registered as a lobbyist. In May, he gave $30,800 to the DNC.
Of course Republican presidential candidates are funded by lobbyists, PACs and the same sort of millionaires funding Obama. The difference is that Republicans aren't pretending to run against the wealthy.
Timothy P.Carney, The Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at email@example.com. His column appears Monday and Thursday, and his stories and blog posts appear on ExaminerPolitics.com.