President Barack Obama’s staggering second-quarter fundraising total – which some say could reach as high as $75 million – is expected to smash records and turn heads. But it also is drawing scrutiny from those who object that some of Obama’s fundraising techniques are questionable, and possibly even illegal.
CNSNews.com reported Friday that election law experts are questioning the legality of a presidential video, filmed in the White House, in which Obama dangled a raffle for a dinner with him and the vice president, in return for a campaign donation.
Title 18, subsection 607, states it is unlawful for the president “to solicit or receive a donation of money or other thing of value in connection with a federal, state, or local election, while in any room or building occupied in the discharge of official duties.”
A 1979 Justice Department ruling found that presidential fundraising in the White House is legal, but only when it occurs in the residential portion of the historic mansion.
But election-law experts told CNSNews the raffle video was taped in an area frequently used for official business.
“It’s a criminal offense,” high-powered GOP attorney Cleta Mitchell, who sits on the ABA’s election-law committee, told the website.
It appears the Obama video, which has been criticized by some observers for demeaning the presidency, was taped in the Map Room.
The Map Room is located on the ground floor of the White House. Obama has used it for media interviews and for a meeting with the Dalai Lama.
Most voters know the Map Room as the venue for the second Obama oath-of-office ceremony, which was conducted by Chief Justice John Roberts in January 2009 after the first ceremony was flubbed.
For now, though, Obama remains focused on building a massive war chest for his 2012 re-election campaign.
The president delivered a tongue-lashing to Republicans on Wednesday, lecturing them to work harder on solving the
debt-ceiling crisis. The day after that controversial address, Obama jetted off to a Philadelphia fundraiser, adding to what is expected to be a record-breaking haul of campaign cash during April, May and June.
“A $75 million second quarter would be unprecedented and would suggest he is heading inexorably toward [raising] $1 billion,” Democratic pollster, author and Fox News contributor Doug Schoen tells Newsmax. “The economy may be weakening, but his finances for the campaign are only strengthening. That spells bad news for Republicans, who are having serious problems raising money.”
Larry Sabato, author and director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, tells Newsmax that Obama’s second-quarter fundraising is “obviously impressive and unprecedented, as far as I can recall.”
Although candidates aren’t required to announce their official second-quarter fundraising numbers to the Federal Election Commission until July 15, information is already leaking out regarding the results:
- NBC’s Chuck Todd has stated a good quarter for Obama would be $40 million, and a great quarter would be anything more than $80 million. By comparison, the record for the most campaign cash raised in a single quarter belongs to then-President George W. Bush, who raised $50.1 million in the second quarter of 2003.
- GOP presidential hopefuls, meanwhile, report their fundraising efforts have been slowed by the weak economy. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is leading the GOP field with $15 million to $20 million, a figure lower than his second-quarter haul in 2007.
- Jon Huntsman, a relative newcomer to the GOP field, raised $4.1 million in the second quarter. But sources said about half of that sum came from Huntsman himself, who donated to his own campaign.
- Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty raised $4.2 million. Finances could become an issue for him because, unlike Romney and Huntsman, Pawlenty doesn’t have deep personal finances to fall back on.
- Rep. Ron Paul continues to be a money-raising machine on the campaign trail. He collected at least $4.5 million, and a last minute push could put him over the $5 million mark for the quarter.
- Political junkies will be watching closely to see how Rep. Michele Bachmann’s fundraising efforts go. She has proven herself a prodigious fundraiser in the past, but expectations are modest because she only officially announced her candidacy on Monday. So far, no “whisper number” for her fundraising activity has been leaked.
Obama campaign officials have been playing down expectations that Obama’s fundraising total for the second quarter could approach $80 million, stating it will do well to raise $60 million for its campaign, and for the Democratic National Committee, which the president controls.
Campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt told NBC’s First Read blog: ""All of the president's events have been joint events for the DNC and the campaign. And a higher share of those dollars go to the DNC – so your expectations for the campaign are totally unrealistic and not going to be met by a long shot.”
But given some of the extraordinary numbers emerging from the president’s campaign, however, controlling expectations may prove difficult.
Already, the campaign reports it has received money from nearly a half million individual donors. In addition, it has over 300 so-called “bundlers,” who collect money on behalf of the campaign, according to The Associated Press.
In 2008, Obama bundlers were asked to collect $100,000 each. This cycle, however, top donors reportedly have been instructed to raise $350,000 apiece.
Also, first lady Michelle Obama is emerging as a fundraising force in her own right. In early June she headlined three fundraising events in Los Angeles, and raised more than $1 million. She hosted three more fundraising events in New England on Thursday.
One reason the Obama fundraising machine is in full swing: The expected reluctance of Jewish and Wall Street donors to underwrite Obama’s re-election bid has not materialized.
In April, for example, former New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine hosted a fundraiser in his New York City apartment for Obama. It sold out two weeks in advance, and reportedly raised more than $2 million from Wall Street denizens.
As impressive as the numbers are, Sabato says they come as no surprise.
“We’ve already built into the political market the expectation that Obama will outspend the eventual Republican nominee by a mile, even after you account for super-PACs and other devices,” Sabato tells Newsmax.
“You’d always prefer to be the candidate with the most money,” he added, “but money alone cannot counteract a strong election trend, should one exist. A rotten economy would overwhelm the money advantage, if it comes to that.”
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