Obama Is Spending an Unprecedented Amount of Time Fundraising: Scandal?

Thanks to the skyrocketing cost of campaigning and the inadequacy of campaign-finance regulation, the president has held nearly twice as many fundraisers as his predecessor.

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Reuters

BALTIMORE -- During the latter half of his first term in office, President Reagan did not hold a single fundraiser for his reelection campaign, and just three for the Republican National Committee. President Obama's total over the equivalent period, through Wednesday, was 164.

This is not a partisan observation -- it's a measure of the staggering increase in recent decades in the amount of time sitting presidents devote to raising money for reelection. Here are the figures for the last six sitting presidents to run for reelection, as compiled by Brendan J. Doherty, a political scientist at the U.S. Naval Academy and author of a forthcoming book called The Rise of the President's Permanent Campaign:

Total combined fundraisers held for reelection committee and party committee in third and fourth years of first term fundraisers chart.jpg

Source: Brendan J. Doherty

Naturally, the time the president must devote to filling his campaign coffers is the subject of attacks from his opponents. "Obama has his priorities -- and reelection comes first," the RNC's chairman, Reince Priebus, wrote in a March op-ed. It has always been thus. Compare:

"Is his priority to be the commander in chief or the fundraiser in chief?"

That's Terry McAuliffe, then-chairman of the DNC, talking about George W. Bush in 2002. And here's an RNC statement from 1998:

"Instead of doing his job ... President Bill Clinton is threatening to shut down the federal government and hopping aboard 'Fund-Raiser One' to New York City to raise campaign cash."

These critiques are both disingenuous and resonant. On the one hand, the president can't be expected to unilaterally disarm in the fundraising race just because it looks bad. On the other hand, it does look bad -- a constant reminder of the crass politicking a president must engage in to keep his job.

But just because the lines of attack are predictable doesn't mean there aren't real consequences to the amount of time the president devotes to the mindless, demeaning work of performing for donors. On Tuesday alone, Obama appeared at six separate fundraising events in quick succession.

At 11:46 a.m., he walked across the South Lawn of the White House, carrying an umbrella, and boarded his helicopter, Marine One, headed for the Baltimore suburb of Owings Mills, where his motorcade would deliver him to the lavish home of a local real-estate developer to begin speaking at 1:23 p.m.: "Well, it is wonderful to be with all of you. Let me begin by thanking our hosts..." Each of the approximately 100 guests had given $10,000 to a combination of the president's campaign and the Democratic Party.

It was raining steadily. By 2:30, Obama had been deposited at the Hyatt Regency hotel in Baltimore's inner harbor, where he conversed privately with a group of 15 supporters who had each given $40,000. At 3:30, he was at a plain podium -- no bunting, no signs with slogans -- in front of four American flags in a drab hotel ballroom of 500 people who'd paid $250 apiece. "Well, it is good to be in Baltimore, home of what may end up being rivals with the White Sox, the Orioles..."

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Molly Ball is a staff writer covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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