RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renée Montagne.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning. Fundraising reports filed last night by the presidential campaigns look like recent public opinion polls - they show President Obama with a narrow advantage in monthly fundraising last month, although Republican Mitt Romney has the edge by some other measures.
MONTAGNE: Money is not everything in a presidential race since both candidates get intense exposure in the media for free, but the money does make a difference as the campaigns carpet bomb key states with ads.
INSKEEP: NPR's Peter Overby has been tracking the campaign money for years and has the latest numbers as voting time approaches.
PETER OVERBY, BYLINE: Each candidate is raising money for his own campaign committee, plus his national party committee, and a joint fundraising committee or two. So what you see depends on what you look at. In cash-on-hand, the overall Romney organization finished August with $168.5 million. That's $43 million more than the Obama organization. But President Obama outraised his opponent, especially when you look at the campaign committees themselves.
Donors gave nearly $71 million to Obama For America, just $27 million to Romney For President. Bill Allison is editorial director of the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation which tracks political money.
BILL ALLISON: You know, despite the surge that Romney had in the summer in terms of fundraising, you know, Barack Obama remains the king of fundraising.
OVERBY: August was not a good month for the Romney organization which this summer looked like a fundraising juggernaut. Big-donor money earmarked for the primary season started to run out. And there was a sharp fall-off in contributions of $200 and less. It translates into roughly 55 thousand fewer small donors than the month before.
The campaign fixed its cash flow with a $20 million loan. This isn't unheard-of in presidential races and the Romney campaign says it's now paid off $9 million. But meanwhile, Romney cut back on TV ads in August and the Obama campaign was able to dominate in battleground states.
The ads against Obama came mainly from two so-called social welfare organizations, Crossroads G-P-S and Americans for Prosperity. Bill Allison points out that these groups, unlike the campaign, have no contribution limits.
ALLISON: The one saving grace for Mitt Romney, and it's true throughout this campaign, these organizations that draw the bulk of their donations from a very few people are able to have this incredibly outsized impact.
OVERBY: Romney's cash flow problem has raised eyebrows. And last night his report was drawing scrutiny for another financial decision carried out after his big speech at the Tampa convention.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)
MITT ROMNEY: Mr. Chairman, and delegates, I accept your nomination for president of the United States.
OVERBY: Romney's report shows that the following day the campaign paid bonuses to seven top aides. The payments ranged from $25,000 to $37,500 dollars - $187, 500 dollars in all. The bonuses were paid even as the Obama TV campaign was starting to move the poll numbers in battleground states. The result: an emerging lead that Mr. Obama continues to hold.
The Romney campaign didn't respond last night to a request for comment. Meanwhile, the pro-Obama superPAC reported its best month ever. Priorities USA Action collected slightly more than $10 million, out-raising the pro-Romney superPAC Restore Our Future for the first time. And Priorities USA Action may get more if donors get the joke made by President Obama this week at a New York fundraiser.
He told the crowd that Democrats can't match the pro-Republican supePACS but, quote, "If somebody here has a $10 million check - I can't solicit it from you, but feel free to use it wisely." The crowd laughed. But it's illegal for a candidate to solicit that kind of money for a superPAC. Again, Bill Allison.
ALLISON: The rule is you can only solicit up to $5,000 for these things if you're a federal candidate. He said it jokingly, and it's awfully hard to know, you know, whether or not the FEC would take that seriously as a violation.
OVERBY: Of course, even if someone did file a complaint, it's safe to say nothing would happen before Election Day. Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.