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A nearly complete picture is emerging of the money chase that shaped the presidential election. President Obama and Republican Mitt Romney each raised more than a billion dollars, according to new reports filed at the Federal Election Commission. But in the new era of unregulated outside groups and seemingly endless TV ads, that was only the beginning, as NPR's Peter Overby reports.
PETER OVERBY, BYLINE: Each candidate had issued dire warnings that the other one would hit the billion-dollar mark, and they both did. The Obama campaign organization reported a grand total of $1.1 billion. For Romney, it was just about $1 billion even. These new filings at the FEC give details of the 20 days before the November 6th election and the 20 days after. In that final frenzy, the fund-raising efforts were neck and neck: $100 million collected by the Romney campaign and 11 million more than that by the Obama team. Sheila Krumholz is director of the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks political money.
SHEILA KRUMHOLZ: I don't think it is surprising that the money at the end came in a frenetic pace. Money really was, I think, the dominant theme in this cycle.
OVERBY: And the cash went out even faster. The Obama operation spent 215 million in the end game. Team Romney spent even more: 242 million. Michael Franz is a political scientist at Bowdoin College. He's also a co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project, which analyzed TV advertising in the race.
MICHAEL FRANZ: The Obama campaign was just pummeling Romney's campaign in terms of ads aired, you know, right up to the very end, but I just can't explain why it was that there wasn't a more aggressive advertising push by the Romney people throughout the fall.
OVERBY: Franz says that in the final few weeks Romney finally reached a rough parity on TV. What had kept him in the race earlier was waves of TV advertising by outside groups. That continued in the final weeks. The superPAC Restore Our Future, run by former Romney aides, shoveled nearly $46 million into TV. The superPAC American Crossroads spent 37 million on the presidential race and other contests. Just 11 millionaires accounted for 30 percent of those funds.
American Crossroads' sister group, Crossroads GPS, also spent heavily, but it's among the many organizations that don't report any donor details to the Federal Election Commission. This level of outside group activity, leveraged by small numbers of wealthy donors, is unheard of in American history. Analyst Michael Franz says that over the course of the campaign such groups aired more than half of the ads for Romney.
FRANZ: They were critical. In no previous presidential election have we seen outside organizations play such a prominent role in propping up a major party nominee.
OVERBY: Ironically, the latest report from the Romney campaign shows some improvement in his fund-raising. Small donors - those who gave $200 or less - in the final weeks gave more than one out of every $4 raised by Romney. That's still less than President Obama. His small donor ratio was one out of three, and all through the campaign, those small donors helped to provide a steadily funded defense against the outside groups that were backing Romney. Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.