According to a spate of new reports, President Obama is in danger of losing his re-election bid because he just can't stomach the indignities of campaign fundraising. The thinking is that the president's personal qualms about trading access for donations are getting in the way of his ability to raise large sums of money like Mitt Romney has. It's one of the preferred explanations from the Obama campaign for why Romney and the Republican Party have raised more money in the last three months. But the self-serving characterization of a president held back by his own morals misses an important fact: No president in history has attended more re-election fundraisers than Obama.
But you wouldn't get that impression by reading the latest about Obama's fundraising shortfall. In a detailed New Yorker piece called "Schmooze or Lose," Jane Mayer's takeaway seems to be that Obama just doesn't like playing the money game. "He’s not carnivorous about it," David Axelrod, senior strategist for Obama's re-election campaign, tells Mayer. "He doesn’t see himself as Fund-raiser-in-Chief.” An anonymous confidant of liberal billionaire George Soros agrees: "This President doesn’t want to spend a lot of time with donors," the donor tells Mayer. "You have to admire that.”
Mayer is by no means the only one who has perpetuated this image of the president. "I think this is his tragic flaw," said Bill Maher, comedian and million dollar Obama Super PAC donor, speaking of Obama's lack of willingness to schmooze with billionaire donors. "He could lose the election," Maher added. In Glenn Thrush's new Politico e-book Obama's Last Stand, the theme is continued. "He despised anything with the whiff of brokering access for cash," Thrush writes. A veteran Democratic fundraiser tells him: "People think he's an elitist, so fund-raising should come naturally to him. He's not. He didn't grow up rich. He doesn't understand the rich. He's an intellectual elitist, not an economic one." In cementing this depiction of Obama, Mayer goes back to the '70s, speaking with President Jimmy Carter's media adviser Gerald Rafshoon for a comparison of the two men. "Carter didn’t like fund-raising, but he did it," he tells her. "Perhaps, he suggests, Obama needs more advisers telling him, 'This is necessary. Do it.'"
In fact, Obama is doing it—a lot more than Carter or any other president has. As of August 12, President Obama attended 203 fundraisers since officially starting his re-election bid in April 2011. As Andy Kroll at Mother Jones wrote last week, "Put another way, that's an average of one fundraiser roughly every 60 hours for Obama." Does that sound like someone who's allergic to glad-handing? As you can see from the chart below, this rate far surpasses the number of events attended by his immediate predecessor George W. Bush, who attended 86 fundraisers for his re-election campaign, much less Jimmy Carter.
And let's not pretend these fundraising events are neighborhood picnics. Dispatches from the lavish $15 million fundraiser at George Clooney's home in May or Harvey Weinstein's Connecticut fundraiser in August reveal a president happy to brush shoulders with wealthy movers and shakers. The September cover story of Harper's Magazine (not online yet) has writer David Samuels attending several fundraisers at various levels in New York. Now, it should be said, much of this is a natural byproduct of a post-Citizens United world. With pro-Romney Super PAC fundraising far outstripping that of the pro-Obama Super PAC fundraising, the president likely feels obligated to ramp up these fundraising events to even the score. Additionally, Mayer's report, which does mention Obama's record fundraising schedule, makes a convincing case that Obama's distant bedside manner with Democratic billionaires is hurting his campaign coffers. While that may be true, the Obama campaign spin that this president, the same man who opted out of public campaign financing during his 2008 campaign, is a tortured fundraiser is belied by his day-to-day schedule as a one-man fundraising machine.