A February increase in financial support for underdog Rick Santorum was too little and too late to slow the far-better financed Mitt Romney, who coasted to an easy victory in the Illinois Republican presidential primary Tuesday.
Santorum’s campaign raised $9 million in February compared with $4.5 million in January. The “Red, White and Blue Fund,” a super PAC supporting former Pennsylvania Sen. Santorum, raised $3 million, 41 percent more than what it raised in January.
Romney’s campaign, meanwhile, raised $12 million in February, nearly doubling its January total, while the super PAC supporting the ex-Massachusetts Gov., “Restore Our Future,” brought in $6.4 million, $3 million of which came from Texas homebuilder and Republican super donor Bob Perry of Texas.
Romney drew 47 percent of the vote in Illinois, former Pennsylvania senator Santorum garnered 35 percent, and Texas congressman Ron Paul of Texas drew 9.3 percent while Gingrich lagged in fourth at 8 percent.
Santorum’s recent financial surge has been aided by Wyoming businessman Foster Friess, who donated $600,000 to the pro-Santorum Red, White and Blue Fund in February, and retired Louisiana energy executive William Dore, who gave the group $500,000 last month.
The pro-Santorum PAC also received a $1 million contribution last month from Annette Simmons, wife of GOP mega-donor Harold Simmons, a billionaire investor who hails from Texas.
All told, the Simmons family donated to each of the top three GOP presidential candidates’ super PACs in February, with Harold giving $100,000 to Restore Our Future and another $100,000 to “Winning Our Future,” a super PAC supportive of Gingrich.
Gingrich’s campaign raised $2.6 million in February while his casino-backed super PAC brought in $5.7 million. The Georgian’s campaign also reported $1.6 million in debt, more than his cash on hand at the end of the reporting period, according to Federal Election Commission reports released late Tuesday night.
While Romney’s financial position appears strong compared with his Republican opponents, President Barack Obama’s fundraising apparatus is clearly in another league. The president’s campaign raised $21 million in February, $10 million more than the previous month, and his campaign through February was sitting on a war chest of nearly $85 million
Romney’s campaign showed cash on hand at the end of February of $7.3 million, which is actually far less than the $10.5 million that his super PAC Restore Our Future has in the bank, a strong indication of how important a role these organizations are playing in the 2012 contest.
The latest fundraising totals are through February and do not reflect much of the activity in the lead up to, or aftermath of, the March 6 “super Tuesday” primaries and caucuses in 10 states.
A super PAC is a political organization that can accept unlimited contributions from individuals, corporations and labor unions and use the funds to pay for ads supporting or opposing candidates. They emerged following the 2010 Supreme Court Citizens United decision and a lower court ruling.
Super PACs are prohibited from coordinating with the campaigns they support, but are often filled with former campaign staffers. So far, Restore Our Future has raised more than $43 million from a relatively small number of wealthy donors, and has taken on the role of attack dog on behalf of the Romney campaign.
Some GOP stalwarts say that the drawn-out battles with the heavy volume of negative ads that super PACs have underwritten is hurting the party’s brand.
“The candidates are focused too much on bringing down each other, when we ought to be talking more about Obama’s failed message” said Henry Barbour, a Romney backer and Republican National Committee member from Mississippi.
Barbour, a lobbyist and nephew of former RNC chairman Haley Barbour, cautioned that the “tone of the primaries has gotten unhealthy.”
The pro-Gingrich super PAC, Winning Our Future, is the second-best funded presidential super PAC, having raised just under $19 million, with nearly 90 percent of it coming from casino owner and multibillionaire Sheldon Adelson and his family.
In February, it raised $5.7 million, $5.5 million coming from the Adelson family.
Meanwhile, even as he outraises the entire Republican field, Obama is lagging behind his record fundraising clip of 2008.
Moreover, Democrats have been painting the Republicans as having the ultimate cash advantage thanks to the free-spending super PACs, which Democrats have been hesitant to embrace at least until recently.
A pro-Obama super PAC, Priorities USA Action, raised just $2 million in February. That comes after a mere $59,000 the previous month. Obama, who had been highly critical of super PACs, last month gave his blessing.
Of its February total, $1 million came from Bill Maher, a comedian best known for his years hosting the television show “Politically Incorrect” and currently “Real Time” on HBO.
The biggest super PAC threat to the Democrats is “American Crossroads,” a Republican organization founded by Karl Rove, former adviser to former Republican President George W. Bush.
Crossroads raised $3.4 million in February and has largely held fire as far as the presidential race is concerned. The organization reported nearly $24 million in cash on hand through February.
As for the parties, the Democratic National Committee, which Obama has been actively stumping for, reported raising $15 million in February, with $21 million cash on hand, while the Republican National Committee raised $11 million and ended the month with nearly $27 million in the bank.
The slow pace of fundraising for Obama compared with 2008, when he was in an intense battle with Hillary Clinton, will pick up once the Republicans choose a candidate, predicts Democratic fundraiser Peter Buttenwieser, who raised more than $500,000 for Obama in 2008.
“The minute [Obama] gets a real opponent his fundraising will pick up in a natural sort of fashion,” he said.
Peter Stone and Michael Beckel contributed to this report.