President Obama has fooled plenty of people into thinking Mitt Romney is beating him in the race for campaign cash. This allows Obama to pose as a scrappy underdog and man of the people even as he raises and spends more money than his opponent. It's quite a trick, supported by three money machines:
First, Obama's campaign has outraised and outspent Romney's campaign.
Second, the Democratic National Committee outraised and outspent the Republican National Committee.
Third, outside groups explicitly taking Obama's side -- super-PACs, 527s and PACs -- have spent more than the outside groups on Romney's side.
Obama would have everyone believe otherwise. "We're getting outraised," Obama wrote in a typical fundraising email this week. This is only true if you concentrate solely on the month of June, when Romney's $105 million beat Obama's $71 million.
Obama's campaign has raised $326 million to Romney's $227 million, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission and the campaign's own reports of its June fundraising. That's a 44 percent lead for Obama.
"I will be the first president in modern history to be outspent in his re-election campaign," Obama wrote in a similar late-June fundraising appeal, specifying, "I'm talking about the Romney campaign itself."
But Obama actually leads Romney in spending by more than 40 percent, according to the latest data -- about $148 million to $104 million (this does not include June spending, which has not yet been reported). And Obama's margin is understated because much of Romney's spending was fighting off GOP primary rivals. Money spent attacking Newt Gingrich doesn't help Romney beat Obama.
Campaigns are only part of the story. When Obama or Romney do their $40,000-a-plate fundraisers, most of that money goes to the DNC and the RNC, respectively. The DNC has outraised the RNC $210 million to $187 million and outspent it by more than 50 percent -- $175 million to $113 million, according to FEC data.
Obama wrote in one recent fundraising appeal that "outside groups just add even more to the underlying problem." But FEC data show that Obama's winning on that score, too.
Any group that expressly advocates the election or defeat of a federal candidate must disclose its expenditures and donors. This includes political action committees, super-PACs, so-called 527 groups and other organizations such as unions.
Outside groups have reported $23.5 million attacking Romney, compared with only $11.3 million attacking Obama, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, or CRP. While that $23.5 million against Romney includes some of Gingrich's and Santorum's attacks, more than $18 million of it is liberal money by my reckoning.
Abortion provider Planned Parenthood, for instance, has spent $1.6 million attacking Romney, while the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees has spent $1.5 million against him.
As far as outside groups' spending in favor of candidates, Romney is ahead $7.3 million to $2.8 million.
All told, counting positive and negative spending, but excluding primary-season conservative attacks on Romney, Obama is winning the outside-money game $21.5 million to $18.7 million, according to my analysis of data at CRP's OpenSecrets.org.
So, by all measures Obama is outraising Romney by approximately $125 million.
Of course, there's plenty we don't know. We don't know how much any group, candidate or party might raise in the next four months. We don't know how much the unions and nonprofits like Planned Parenthood are sitting on, ready to deploy come fall.
Most importantly, some outside groups are not required to disclose their political spending. A group is exempt from disclosure requirements if it avoids expressly opposing or supporting candidate, and instead frames its ads as "issue ads" (e.g., "call President Obama and tell him to stop giving our money to his cronies"). Obama may end up being outspent when we count such nondisclosed money.
But here's what we know now: Obama is way ahead of Romney in the money race but somehow convincing everyone the opposite is true.
Timothy P.Carney, The Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears Monday and Thursday, and his stories and blog posts appear on washingtonexaminer.com.