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.
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
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.