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Obama outspends Romney; both see surge in donations

By Melanie Mason, Matea Gold and Joseph Tanfani, Tribune Washington Bureau –

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama burned through nearly $116 million in September, close to twice as much as Republican challenger Mitt Romney, according to reports filed Saturday, highlighting the divergent strategies of the two candidates as they headed into the final stretch of the White House race.

Obama has kept up a costly but unrelenting press against his competitor through the summer and fall, pumping nearly $300 million into television ads in the general election so far, according to a Republican source tracking ad buys. Romney — backed by an array of outside groups spending hundreds of millions on his behalf — largely stockpiled his resources and then unleashed a major air barrage beginning this month. He has spent almost $166 million on ads in the general election.

Both candidates saw a surge in donations in September. Obama, together with the Democratic National Committee and two joint fundraising committees, brought in $181 million. Romney and his affiliated committees raised $170 million.

But Obama is raising a larger share of his cash in small donations that go directly to his campaign committee, giving him more flexibility in how to spend it. Obama for America got $96.3 million in contributions in September, while Romney for President raised $41.9 million.

That could explain why the GOP nominee’s campaign actually spent slightly less in September than it did in August — $65 million, down from $66 million, according to Federal Election Commission filings. The bulk went to media ads: $37 million, less than half of the $88 million Obama’s campaign spent on commercials.

Romney’s campaign also paid off $10 million on a $20 million loan it took out in late August. The campaign has a remaining debt of $5 million on the loan.

By the end of the month, Obama’s campaign had $99 million in the bank, while Romney’s campaign had $63 million. But including their party fundraising committees, Romney entered October with more cash on hand than Obama, $191 million to $150 million.

Romney’s relatively light presence on the air in September puzzled many of his allies, who had expected the candidate to dramatically step up his advertising after the Republican National Convention, when he was able to access funds raised for the general election.

The pro-Romney “super PAC” Restore Our Future aired just $4.1 million in ads in September on his behalf, having run through most of its cash with a nearly $20 million ad buy in August. The group spent last month replenishing its coffers, raising $14.8 million — a sum enabling it to have a strong presence on the air in the final stretch of the race.

The super PAC’s September haul was double that of August, thanks to nearly 40 six- and seven-figure donations. The largest: a $2 million contribution from Bob Perry, the Houston homebuilder who has given a total of $9 million to the group this cycle. Oxbow Carbon LLC, the energy company owned by William Koch, gave $1 million, as did Houston Texans owner Bob McNair and Missouri construction executive Stanley Herzog.

Steven Lund, former chief executive of the nutritional supplement company Nu Skin, and his wife, Kalleen, gave a combined $1 million to the group. Lund was among the super PAC’s earliest benefactors; two companies linked to Lund seeded the group with $2 million back in March 2011. Lund’s ties to Romney date back to 1999 when NuSkin became one of the first major sponsors of the 2002 Salt Lake City Games after Romney took over its operations.

For a second month in a row, Restore Our Future was edged out in fundraising by its pro-Obama counterpart, Priorities USA Action, which pulled in $15.25 million in September, its best month yet. Two other Democratic super PACs that focus on congressional races, House Majority PAC and Majority PAC, also had their strongest fundraising months in September — an indication of a growing embrace by the left of the outside spending vehicles.

Obama’s campaign has also had stepped-up success among big contributors. In the third quarter of the year, 122 new fundraisers who bundle large checks joined his re-election effort, bringing the campaign’s number of bundlers to 758, according to a list released Friday by the campaign.

Together, they raised at least $180 million through the end of September, almost one-fifth of the $947 million Obama and his fundraising committees have brought in so far, according to a Los Angeles Times/Tribune Washington Bureau analysis. The campaign reports broad fundraising ranges for the bundlers, not exact totals, so the actual amount could be far higher.

Romney has declined to release the names of fundraisers bundling money for his campaign, other than those who are lobbyists, which he is required to disclose.

Among Obama’s new bundlers are former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who raised between $200,000 and $500,000, and Charlie Crist, the former Republican governor of Florida. He announced his support for Obama in August, and has raised between $100,000 and $200,000.

Some of the newest bundlers debuted in the top ranks of those who have raised more than $500,000 for the campaign, including singer Gwen Stefani and designer Tom Ford.

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