Obama needs your money now, or God will call him home

When it comes to fundraising, President Obama bears a striking resemblance to Oral Roberts. Photo: C Jill Reed (Flickr)

WASHINGTON, July 11, 2012 — The Romney campaign raised $35 million more than the Obama campaign last month, doing much better at raising donations larger than $250 and reducing President Obama’s advantage among smaller donors. This is in spite of Obama’s highly innovative fund raising strategies, including raffling dinners with the president, his wife, Vice-President Biden, and Hollywood celebrities; aggressive merchandising of designer bric-a-brac adorned with the Obama campaign logo; and a special events registry that allows newlyweds, graduates, bar mitzvah celebrants and others to forgo gifts in favor of funding the Obama campaign.

The fundraising gap has led Obama to suggest that if his supporters don’t pick up the pace, he will be replaced in November. This is reminiscent of Oral Roberts’ 1987 claim that if he couldn’t raise $8 million in two months, God would call him home. Obama, of course, has never been visited by a 900-foot Jesus (he may yet announce that as an October surprise), but he needs to raise much, much more than Roberts did. Add in their mutual love of high living and their ability to imbue their money-grubbing with an uncommon degree of sanctimony, and Obama begins to look like the love child of Oral Roberts and an infomercial shill.

The temptation to satirize Obama’s fundraising is huge. We might cast Obama as Roberts and even trot out Jesus. The problem is, that would be like satirizing soap operas and The National Enquirer. How do you satirize something that’s already parody? Two months ago the Obama special events registry would have sounded over-the-top. What’s next, asking elderly supporters to disinherit their children and leave him everything in their wills? Let the kids think of it as an extra special inheritance tax and be grateful that they could pay it.

Liberals express regret that this sort of fundraising bad taste is the necessary consequence of competing with Republicans in the wake of Citizens United. Four years ago Obama raised $74 million against John McCain’s $48 million (compare that with $71 million for Obama last month against Romney’s $106 million). Why was it necessary and virtuous to so vastly outspend his opponent then? He can’t blame Citizens United for that.

Obama has held more fundraisers for his reelection (over 120 by April) than every other president in the last forty years combined. The presidency has become a permanent campaign, with reelection dominating the president’s first term, but Obama promised to change all that. Instead he’s run with it to unprecedented levels, outspending McCain two-to-one and planning a billion-dollar campaign this year. The fundraising never stops. He celebrated his 50th birthday with a fundraiser, turned Mother’s Day and Father’s Day into bids to expand his donor base (and cast himself and Michelle as the mother and father of America), and has given cabinet and other top administration officials permission to attend events to raise money for super PACs.

Money is the life’s blood and mother’s milk of political campaigns. It would be hard to fault the Obama campaign for not taking advantage of every opportunity created by the law, and because the campaign season is still young, the Romney campaign might yet sink to the depths of bad taste being explored by Obama’s. For its audaciousness of brazen merchandising, though, the Obama campaign is blazing new trails. Its hypocrisy is merely par for the political course; only an idiot would have believed that Obama would change the way business was done just because he said he would. He must have known when he made that promise that he had a choice between integrity and reelection, and that’s not a choice many politicians will make with an eye to virtue.

James Picht is the Senior Editor for Communities Politics and teaches economics at the Louisiana Scholars’ College in Natchitoches, La., where he went to take a break from working in Moscow and Washington. But he fell in love with the town and with the professor of Romance languages, so there he stayed. Now he teaches, annoys his children, and makes jalapeno lemonade. He believes in Jesus, but doubts Jesus believes in politics. He tweets, hangs out on Facebook, and has a blog he totally neglects at pichtblog.blogspot.com.


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Jim Picht

James Picht is the Senior Editor for Communities Politics and teaches economics and Russian at the Louisiana Scholars' College in Natchitoches, La. After earning his doctorate in economics, he spent several years working in Moscow and the new independent states of the former Soviet Union for the U.S. government, the Asian Development Bank, and as a private contractor. He returned to Ukraine recently to teach principles of constitutional law and criminal procedure at several Ukrainian law schools for a USAID legal development project. He has been writing at the Communities since 2009.

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