Obama Strengthens Fundraising Edge

Hillary Rodham Clinton upped the tempo of her fundraising and her spending last month, only to be eclipsed by rival Barack Obama. At month's end, with debts of nearly $9 million, her money was nearly spent and he was sitting atop $30 million in available cash.

Obama's campaign spent at a rate of nearly $1.5 million a day in February, a crucial month that began with the Feb. 5 Super Tuesday and ended with both candidates marching to a showdown March 4 in Texas and Ohio. Clinton, riding her best fundraising period yet, spent about $1 million a day on average.

But reports filed with the Federal Election commission late Thursday showed that Obama set a single-month fundraising record, with more than $55 million in contributions.

Both Democrats ended up with more than $30 million in the bank, but Clinton can't use two-thirds of her cash on hand because it's only for the general election. That and her debt left her with less than $3 million in the black. The debt doesn't include the $5 million she lent her campaign in January.

Obama's fundraising juggernaut is unprecedented and gave him a significant advantage this month as they prepared for a confrontation in Pennsylvania on April 22. Obama's spending edge continued into March. An analysis of ad spending between Feb. 10 and March 10 by TNS Media Intelligence/CMAG had Obama spending $17 million to Clinton's $8.6 million.

Republican John McCain reported raising $11 million in February, a slight dip from January but still a better fundraising clip than he had last year. Now, as the presumed GOP nominee, McCain has embarked on an aggressive fundraising schedule in March to finance his campaign against the Democrats, whoever their nominee might be.

McCain reported $8 million cash on hand - $3 million of which is for the general election. At month's end, McCain still owed $3 million on a loan, but he paid that off this week, aides said.

Obama, as the delegate and money leader in the race, has found himself staving off both Clinton and McCain in recent weeks. His campaign underscored the challenge in a fundraising appeal Thursday.

"No one could have imagined it would go on this long, or that we'd have to fight this battle on two fronts at the same time," Obama campaign manager David Plouffe wrote in an e-mail to potential donors. "We've got to take on both Senator Clinton and Senator McCain at the same time."

The Money Race
Check out February tallies for Clinton, Obama and McCain.
In a testament to the financial heft behind the Democrats, Obama and Clinton together spent more in a month than McCain has for the length of the yearlong campaign.

McCain has now spent $58.4 million in his primary bid, surpassing the $50 million limit he would have faced if he participated in the public financing system he had been certified to join. McCain has decided not to accept the public matching funds, but the FEC wants him to assure regulators that he did not use the promise of public money as collateral for the loan.

McCain and his lawyers said the loan was secured with other assets, thus freeing him to spend as much money as he wishes on his primary campaign. The Democratic National Committee has filed a complaint with the FEC arguing McCain cannot withdraw from the public finance system without FEC approval. The FEC for now can't act, however, because four of its six seats are vacant.

While eschewing public funds for the primary, McCain has called on Obama to accept public financing with him for the fall campaign. Such a step would limit both candidates to about $85 million to be spent from September to Election Day in November. Obama has hedged, setting several conditions before he would consider taking public money. Few Democrats believe Obama should abandon his prodigious fundraising, which could generate far more than the public funding would permit.

McCain is keeping his options open. Last month he filed documents to create a "compliance fund" - an account used by publicly financed candidates so they can accept private donations to cover legal expenses and other exempted costs.

This week, McCain had faced questions over a government-paid trip to the Middle East and Europe that included a fundraising luncheon in London. On Thursday, his campaign said it would reimburse the federal government about $3,000 for political travel expenses incurred during the trip.

Under terms reviewed by the FEC and the Senate ethics committee, McCain will reimburse the government for a one-night stay at a London hotel and first-class airfare from Washington to London because he attended a $1,000-per-person fundraising lunch there. McCain had already agreed to pay more than $2,000 for the flight home.

Democratic National Committee General Counsel Joe Sandler said Thursday that McCain should cover a greater portion of the trip with his campaign funds.

Former candidates also filed FEC reports Thursday. Republican Mitt Romney, the multimillionaire former governor of Massachusetts, borrowed $2 million on the eve of Super Tuesday Feb. 5 in a last-ditch attempt to save his campaign. He bowed out two days later. Romney, who had already lent his campaign $42.3 million of his own, borrowed the money from Goldman Sachs & Co. and secured it with personal assets held at the investment firm, according to his report.

Mike Huckabee, who ended his Republican campaign March 4, reported raising $3 million in February. He spent $3.3 million during the month, half of it on television advertising and charter air travel even as McCain appeared to be the certain Republican winner.