EVANSVILLE, Ind. (AP) — The method used to raise money for Mitt Romney's presidential campaign in Evansville next month is at the cutting edge of fundraising for White House candidates and the party strategists tasked with helping them win.
Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee, is scheduled to attend a private fundraiser Aug. 4 at the home of Evansville businessman Steven E. Chancellor.
Romney did two fundraisers in Indianapolis and one in Schererville, but the Evansville event represents the first and, perhaps, only high-dollar strike by his campaign into Indiana's secondary market for political contributions. Fundraisers at Chancellor's home can pack a considerable punch. He hosted a GOP event in July 2000 that generated more than $1.4 million.
The money raised next month won't go to Romney for President alone, which is why there will be so much of it. It will go to Romney Victory, Inc., a relatively new joint fundraising committee to which donors may legally contribute $75,800 during this election cycle.
Romney Victory, which received its first contributions in April, was created by Romney for President, the Republican National Committee and several state GOP organizations to allow donors to give the legal limit to all of them with a single check.
The limits are: $5,000 to the candidate's campaign, $30,800 to his national party committee; and $40,000 to the state parties' federal accounts.
Joint fundraising committees for presidential candidates are nothing new, said Anthony Corrado, a political scientist at Maine's Colby College who has spent years studying trends in political spending.
But Corrado said their use has exploded since 2008, when Democrat Barack Obama became the first presidential candidate to decline public funding for a general election.
"Generally, joint fundraising committees developed as an efficient way to more or less one-stop shopping for big fundraisers, where they could raise the maximum allowed under federal law, from an individual donor," he said. "In the 2008 campaign you really saw a dramatic expansion of this type of activity because the Republicans were trying to compete with Obama's war chest and raise as much money for the party as they could, and the Obama campaign responded by doing a lot of this type of fundraising also."
That year, joint fundraising on the Republican side generated $172 million — $32 million to nominee Sen. John McCain's campaign and about $140 million to national and state GOP committees. Democrats transferred about $197 million, with $87 million going to Obama's campaign and the rest going to national or state party committees.
The numbers so far this year suggest that Romney Victory is the prime mover in the GOP candidate's massive fundraising operation.
Romney Victory raised $140 million between its formation on April 5 and the end of June. The Obama Victory Fund, a similar joint fundraising committee working on behalf of the now-Democratic president, had pulled in $185 million as of May 31.
But Obama, whose renomination by Democrats was never in doubt, has been staging maximum-dollar fundraisers for more than a year. The Obama Victory Fund started raising money in April 2011. Romney had to fight off several intraparty foes in GOP primaries while many major donors watched and waited for a winner to emerge.
Corrado called Romney Victory's $140 million "quite extraordinary."
The political fundraising analyst expects Romney and Obama's joint fundraising committees to shatter all records by campaign's end because both candidates are emphasizing the committees in lieu of more traditional fundraising methods.
"Why? Without public funding both candidates have an incentive to raise as much money as possible, for one, and second, the party committees can spend as much money as they want independently on the presidential campaign so long as they don't coordinate with the candidates," Corrado said.
A Courier & Press analysis of Federal Election Commission data on Tri-State area contributors to presidential campaigns suggests the Chancellor fundraiser represents the first significant attempt by any 2012 presidential campaign to raise money in southwestern Indiana.
Using data from the inception of each presidential campaign through the end of May, the Courier & Press found that no candidate received more money in nine southwestern Indiana counties than Romney's $72,748. Obama was second with $30,451.
But those figures are a pittance in modern presidential fundraising. Romney's nine-county haul was hardly much more than the $70,930 that Republican Marsha Abell reported raising for her successful 2010 campaign for a Vanderburgh County Commissioners seat.
The names of many frequent local donors to Republican candidates did not appear on Romney's list of area contributors, perhaps reflecting the fact that he had not yet sewn up the GOP presidential nomination in the year's first few months.
Romney has appeared in Indiana three times, for private and public fundraisers in Indianapolis and for a July 2011 fundraiser at Dumezich's Schererville home. His brother, Scott Romney, appeared at a Romney Victory fundraiser in Merrillville last month. Romney's son, Craig Romney, was present at a fundraiser during Super Bowl week in Indianapolis.
And last week, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush attended at a Romney fundraiser at the Fishers home of investment banker Jerry Slusser.
Ed Feigenbaum, a longtime Hoosier political observer who is the publisher of Indiana Legislative Insight, said the major parties' presidential nominees look first to places like Indianapolis, Fishers and Lake County, near Chicago, when it comes to raising money in Indiana.
"It's almost not worth their time to go to any kind of second-tier city. It's not worth it for them to go to Fort Wayne or Terre Haute or Evansville or something like that," Feigenbaum said. "If you do visit something outside of Lake County, which is basically Chicago, or Indianapolis, you're going to go to southeastern Indiana, to Clarksville or Jeffersonville or New Albany, because that's essentially Louisville (Ky.), that market. Outside of that, there's not a lot of big bucks within the state."
Donors in secondary fundraising markets will give money or travel to events in bigger cities if they are motivated enough, Feigenbaum said. The candidates need good reasons — such as Chancellor's demonstrated fundraising potency — to come to those markets.