Obama’s fundraising slows; Hillary’s debts soar

Democrat Barack Obama raised $22 million in May for his presidential campaign, his weakest fundraising month this year, and ended the month with $43 million cash on hand, while former rival Hillary Rodham Clinton sank deeper in debt.

Obama, who has been the fundraising leader throughout the presidential contest, entered June on virtually the same financial footing as Republican rival John McCain — a level of parity that would have been unimaginable just a few months ago.

Details of the candidates’ May fundraising, filed Friday in reports to the Federal Election Commission, came a day after Obama announced he would become the first major party candidate to forgo public financing in the general election. McCain has said he will accept the public funds, which will limit him to spending about $85 million from September until Election Day in November.

McCain raised $21 million in May and ended the month with $31.6 million in the bank. Of Obama’s cash on hand, $10 million is available only for the general election, leaving him with about $33 million to use between now and the party conventions in late summer. Obama reported debts of $304,000; McCain had debts of $1.3 million.

Obama’s decision to forgo public funds permits him to use leftover primary money in the general election. McCain cannot.

Clinton, who bowed out of the Democratic contest on June 7, reported a $22.5 million debt at the end of May, more than half of which came from personal loans to her presidential campaign. The former first lady lent her campaign nearly $2.2 million during the month, bringing her total personal investment in the campaign to $12.175 million. She had $3.4 million cash on hand left for primary spending. She also had more than $23 million for the general election, money her campaign cannot use to pay off her debts.

Clinton campaigned actively through the last Democratic primaries on June 3 before succumbing to Obama and is expected to have even greater debt at the end of this month. In a call to donors on Thursday, she said she would concentrate on paying off money owed to vendors, not her personal loans.

Obama reported spending $26.6 million in May. His heaviest spending was on advertising — he spent more than $4 million buying time for television commercials. Clinton reported total disbursements of $19.2 million for the month.

The two Democrats traded primary victories during the month but Obama continued to build his delegate advantage. He secured the nomination June 3, winning that day’s Montana primary but losing to Clinton in South Dakota.

Obama’s decision to forgo public money in the general election gives greater significance to his efforts to capitalize on Clinton’s support for the general election. Her donors would be a rich vein to tap.

First, however, Clinton needs substantial help retiring her debt. Many of her loyal donors have already contributed the maximum to her campaign, so she needs some new sources of money. That’s where Obama comes in — his donors help her out, her donors help him.

"It’s far more productive for Obama to have Hillary 100 percent focused and engaged on campaigning and raising money for him in the fall rather than having to do fundraisers at the same time to retire her debt," said Hassan Nemazee, a Clinton national finance chairman.

"It would clearly make life easier for those of us in the Clinton world who would like to help Senator Obama raise the types of moneys that are necessary from the Clinton world to be in a position to point out, ‘Look what Senator Obama has done for Senator Clinton.’"

Clinton and Obama will meet with her top fundraisers next Thursday in Washington, then both will campaign together Friday.

Obama said he is expecting McCain to have significant help from the Republican Party and from outside groups.

So far, though, few conservative outside groups have stepped into the presidential election and those that have have spent little money. In a news conference Friday, Obama defended his decision to go outside the public financing system.

"There are a lot of outside groups that are potentially going to be going after us hard," he said. He also pointed out that McCain advisers have made a point of featuring the RNC’s financial advantage.

"So you know, this isn’t speculative on my part," he said. "I think it’s something that we’ve seen in the past and it’s something that we continue to be concerned about."