Do Presidential Fundraising Numbers Matter Anymore?

Federal candidates are scrambling to rake in a few extra dollars because today is the last day to include the amounts in third-quarter fundraising numbers. Official tallies don't have to be reported until the middle of next month, but a handful of the campaigns have already leaked their numbers.

Rick Perry will likely lead the pack. Rumors circulated earlier this week that he had hauled in around $20 million, though campaign aides quickly shot that down. Still, it wouldn't be any surprise if Perry had the most successful quarter given that he is the newest candidate in the field and had the most untapped territory. Mitt Romney, the only other GOP candidate who looks like he has a chance at the nomination, brought in around $11 million to $13 million according to early reports, a significant drop from his $18 million second quarter. But unlike his 2008 run, Romney has not yet relied on his own vast personal wealth, so if in the closing days of the primary things are looking close, he can always infuse his campaign with a few million. Beyond those two, the Ron Paul money machine continues to carry on, collecting $5 million in the quarter. And the other campaigns have kept largely silent -- an indication that they're nowhere near the top two (and whatever you do, don't ask Newt about his numbers).

But as Pema noted in this morning's Balance Sheet, the actual campaign numbers don't tell the full story.

But post Citizens United -- the 2010 Supreme Court case which opened election spending to corporations and unions -- the amount that each campaign raises now matters less. What matters is how much Super Political Action Committees (Super PACs) -- outside groups that raise and spend enormous amounts of money (though where the money comes from is often unclear) -- have already come to dominate the 2012 election infrastructure.

She highlighted the disparity between liberal and conservative Super PACs (shocker: with business on their side conservative groups are outperforming liberals). Those differences won't become fully evident until next fall. Each of the major GOP candidates (even Jon Huntsman) has an independent group that collects unlimited funds. These groups are technically separate from the candidate's campaign but essentially operate as a secondary headquarters. One of Perry's PACs, for example, is headed by his former chief of staff. Mitt Romney's outside PAC brought in $20 million during the first six months of the year. The nomination campaign is just starting to ramp up into full speed, but these new groups could completely restructure the nomination process, much in the way shifts in the primary process and calendar made candidates re-evaluate during the 1970s.

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