Americans have given $160 million so far this year to the declared presidential candidates, according to recent candidate filings. That’s four times what they had given at the same point in 2003. The top three Democrats—Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards—have outraised the top Republicans—Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, and John McCain—$65 million to $46 million, and have also put away more money in the bank, $59 million to $27 million.
But the great joy of digging into the campaign-finance reports is not learning how much they raised, but how they spent it, from the $16,000 John Edwards spent on campaign paraphernalia to Obama’s $10,000 on electronic equipment to the McCain’s $1,600 on flowers. Here are a few other intriguing, and sometimes frivolous, facts about the candidate spending (listed in order of total raised, Democrats first):
Clinton: ($26 million raised; $30 million on hand.) The senator owes $277,000 to Penn, Schoen & Berland, the polling firm run by her chief strategist, Mark Penn. No candidate in either party spent more on polling, which will not undermine her image as a calculating politician. The senator is also a thorough politician. The filings also show she made a $4,000 donation to House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, the senior Democrat in Congress from South Carolina, a key 2008 primary state. All the campaigns are heavily courting the so-far unaffiliated Clyburn; Clinton is the only one to use her presidential committee to make donations to him.
Obama: ($25 million raised; $19 million cash on hand.) The only employee of Obama’s campaign who made more than $25,000 for the quarter was Julianna Smoot, his finance director. Given his stunning fund-raising performance, she was worth it. As pointed out in the New York Times, Obama’s records include donations from former lobbyists. This doesn’t undermine Obama’s pledge to not take lobbyist money, says the campaign, because these rainmakers are not lobbyists now. (The campaign did return $50,000 given by current lobbyists.)
Edwards: ($14 million raised; $10 million cash on hand.) No major candidate talks about the poor more than John Edwards. Mario Cuomo says he’s the most substantive in the race. (Edwards says this about himself, too.) But John Edwards has a hair weakness. His FEC filings show two $400 haircuts, which raise at least two issues. The first is: What can you get for a $400 haircut, anyway? The second is, given Edwards’ past trouble of looking like he cares too much for his hair, couldn’t he have put the trims on his personal account? And if you think haircuts don’t matter as potent political symbols, remember that Montana Sen. Jon Tester ran his entire campaign on his flat-top haircut. Edwards raised $5.4 million after his wife announced she had cancer in late March and did not spend a single dime on polling.
Romney: ($21 million raised; $13 million cash on hand.) Romney has raised the most money of any Republican, but he also likes to spend it. That money didn’t go to staff perks. Romney, the richest candidate, was stingiest with his staff members’ salaries and often had them fly discount airlines and double up on accommodations like the Super 8 Motel. Instead of free drinks and food at the campaign, they’re only subsidized (sodas at 25 cents a can; snacks in the vending machine are 50 cents). His Mormon ties appear to be paying off. So far, Utahns have contributed more than residents of any other state except California.
Giuliani: ($15 million raised; $12 million cash on hand.) The mayor has the best-paid top staffers: Seven made more than $25,000 in the first quarter, and his campaign manager made $44,375, more than the managers of other campaigns. But Giuliani also showed the most spending discipline on the Republican side. It’s a smart play. He is courting Republicans nervous about his stances on abortion, gun control, and gay rights by stressing his fiscal restraint.
McCain: ($13 million raised; $5 million cash on hand.) McCain’s famous bus, the Straight Talk Express, cost $66,000 last quarter. That seems a reasonable expense since in 2000 it helped create the election magic that McCain is trying to revive. But $16,317 in catering costs for an event at the swank Beverly Hilton hotel seems more politically problematic, especially since it may come to symbolize the trouble the campaign finds itself in after having raised only $13 million in the first quarter while spending $8 million. Romney burned a lot, too, but McCain has campaigned for years as a pork buster and someone who hasn’t been tainted by the profligate spending ways of Washington. In one bright spot for McCain, his campaign reported having 51,000 contributors, more than his two main rivals.