Reporting from Washington—Though the first Republican voting is six months away, and the general election further still, the presidential campaigns were faced this week with one imperative: to raise the most cash possible before the financial quarter draws to a close Thursday.
The crunch left people like Bobbie Kilberg, a fundraiser for Republican front-runner Mitt Romney, courting potential donors for a Wednesday event in northern Virginia. If a would-be contributor claimed a scheduling conflict, Kilberg asked not just for a rain check, but the real thing.
Kilberg wanted to make sure that donations she gathered in the last week of June would appear on the candidate's quarterly fundraising filing. Checks that trickle in after midnight Thursday won't make the official tally until the end of September.
"I've been saying to people, 'Look, this is very important that Mitt Romney has a very robust second-quarter fundraising report, to show he has resources to go all the way and he has support of people that agree with him on issues,' " Kilberg said.
The push to contribute by Thursday's deadline has targeted every tier of donor, from big-ticket givers who are asked to pore through their Rolodexes and "bundle" contributions to small-dollar donors whose inboxes have been deluged daily with fundraising emails.
"In less than a week, we'll begin preparing our first public report on this campaign's progress, and your support will help make sure we have as strong a showing as possible," read one recent appeal from President Obama's reelection campaign. "If you're planning to give sometime during this campaign, you should donate today."
The campaign hopes to attract 450,000 donors by the June 30 deadline.
Other contenders framed their goals in dollar amounts. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s campaign sought to raise $200,000 in online contributions before the close of books. Rep. Ron Paul, whose 2008 campaign was fueled by "money bombs" from online supporters, set the stakes substantially higher: $5 million raised by the filing deadline.
"These deadlines have become opportunities for direct-mail firms to warn of gloom and doom and impending disaster and for bundlers to redouble their phone calls," said Stuart Rothenberg, a political handicapper who publishes the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report.
The candidates' fundraising styles dictated their schedules this week. While Rep. Michele Bachmann, known for her grassroots fundraising infrastructure, campaigned in the key primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire, other Republican hopefuls were drawn to moneyed metropolitan areas in their quest for big checks.
Before his Washington visit Wednesday, Romney attended a breakfast reception at the glitzy New York restaurant Cipriani on Monday, where VIP tickets cost $2,500 — the maximum for individual federal campaign contributions. Huntsman spent the week at private fundraisers in Salt Lake City, Houston, Chicago and Grand Rapids, Mich. He'll finish the quarter Thursday at events in Boston and New York.
The fundraising swings heighten the pressure on well-connected bundlers in those cities, whom the campaigns lean on to broaden their money networks.
Lawrence Finder, a Houston attorney who raises money for former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, was called into action last week when, as part of a two-day Texas trip, the candidate held several events in Finder's hometown.
"It's a labor of love. If I know he's coming to town, I start the moment I know" to reach out to potential givers, Finder said. "If I get the people there, they're going to write checks."
Campaigns hope their dash to the deadline will prove they have the resources and momentum to compete in the coming months. But the stakes may not be as high as the frenzy would imply.
In the second quarter of 2003, Vermont Gov. Howard Dean out-raised Sen. John F. Kerry $7.6 million to $5.9 million. Kerry went on to win the Democratic nomination.
And by this point in 2007, Sen. John McCain "was basically given up for dead because of poor fundraising and a campaign that fell apart," Rothenberg said. McCain won the nomination over early GOP fundraising leader Mitt Romney the following year.
Nevertheless, in a marathon political season, the quarterly sprints are a campaign ritual that will be repeated from now until election day.
"[The primaries] are going to go all the way to May 2012, and it's only June 2011," Kilberg said. "That's a long time to stay on the phone with people."