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Shaking the money tree

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April 6, 2007

By DALE McFEATTERS

The preliminary first-quarter fund-raising reports from the presidential candidates are out and they come with a shocker: Barack Obama raised $25 million, almost as much as Hillary Rodham Clinton’s $26 million.

That is amazing for a novice on the national scene, one who was basically unknown outside of Illinois just three years ago. Obama also raised the money from 100,000 donors — twice Clinton’s number — giving him quite a mailing list.

Clinton, of course, is a household name who inherited her husband’s fund-raising operation and roster of donors. Moreover, her campaign chairman is the legendary fund-raiser Terry McAuliffe.

The quick take by political analysts was that Clinton no longer had an inevitable lock on the nomination and now faces a serious and credible challenger. John Edwards was third with $15 million. Bill Richardson, Chris Dodd and Joe Biden trailed far behind.

In a reversal of the conventional wisdom that Republicans are the better money-raisers, the Democrats out-raised them in total by almost $80 million to just over $50 million. Mitt Romney led the GOP with $20.7 million, compared to $15 million for Rudy Giuliani and a surprisingly low $12.5 million for John McCain, with Sam Brownback, Mike Huckabee and Duncan Hunter bringing up the rear.

Big bucks are no guarantee of victory, as such lavishly financed flops as Phil Gramm and John Connally so ably proved. But having deep pockets means a candidate can survive early setbacks in the primaries. Less well-financed campaigns generally have to score early and big.

These will be the most expensive nominating races and presidential campaigns in American history, but that only shows the importance the voters place on the race. The big money numbers will undoubtedly bring renewed calls for campaign finance "reform," a chimera that has proved impossible to achieve without regulating and limiting political speech. Money really does talk.