WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama's campaign reported Tuesday that it raked in nearly $40 million in the last three months of 2011 and closed the year with $82 million in cash, aided by some 60 bundlers who each raised at least $500,000 for the campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
The bundlers included filmmakers, real estate magnates and former New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, who was recently ousted as chief executive of investment firm MF Global after its collapse from its bets in Europe.
Obama's fundraising machine might normally be intimidating to any Republican challenger.
But during a year in which corporations and wealthy Americans are pouring unlimited sums into outside groups, partly due to a Supreme Court ruling that's turned the world of campaign finance upside down, any advantage can disappear in a flash.
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With end-of-the-year campaign finance reports due by midnight Tuesday from scores of newly formed "super PACs" — political action committees declaring they'd seek high-dollar donors, it was already clear how much the high court's January 2010 decision has changed the playing field.
The ruling, in a case called Citizens United, ended a century-old ban on corporate campaign spending and similarly allowed labor unions to tap their treasuries to aid or oppose federal candidates with independent spending.
In the presidential race, independent expenditures last year and through the end of January totaled $44.1 million, most of it spent on behalf of a large field of GOP candidates. According to figures tabulated by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, that's more than quadruple the $10.6 million spent by outside groups on behalf of candidates during the same period in 2007 and early 2008, when candidates in both parties were waging hard-fought primary election campaigns.
Obama's campaign voluntarily identified more than 300 individuals and couples who raised at least $50,000 for a joint fundraising committee that raises donations of up to $35,800 from wealthy backers, of which the party is permitted to keep $30,800 and the campaign may accept $5,000.
Those passing the hat for Obama included filmmaker Harvey Weinstein of New York and Jeffrey Katzenberg of Los Angeles, a Dreamworks principal along with Steven Spielberg. Others included Mark Gilbert of Boca Raton, Fla., a wealth management adviser and former professional baseball player, Miami real estate magnate Steven Green and Andrew Tobias, author and treasurer of the DNC.
Most key Republican super PACs, including those backing Mitt Romney and his chief challenger, Newt Gingrich, held back their disclosures until after the polls closed in Florida's GOP primary on Tuesday.
Sheila Krumholtz, executive director of the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics, said that means the disclosures are "too little, too late for the first four primaries."
While the new rules effectively allow donors to "do whatever you want, no holds barred," she said, at least those giving to the recently formed super PACs must be identified. It's possible, Krumholtz said, that many corporations will "hold off until the action really returns to the more secret nonprofits, where they can give anonymously."
"It's sobering, the degree to which the political process has moved to the fringe and moved under the radar," she said.
Obama's campaign, with help from a joint committee formed with the DNC, has amassed $130 million since the campaign cycle began. In the 2008 race, Obama's campaign raised $662 million, much of it in small donations — those less than $200.
Similarly, in raising $39.9 million in the fourth quarter, Obama's campaign reported raising $17.3 million in small donations.
Ben LaBolt, an Obama campaign spokesman, said that super PACs have "played an outsize role" in the early GOP primaries, with candidates relying "on millions of dollars in outside spending to eviscerate their opponents."
For Obama, he said, "There's no doubt that we're going to have to lean heavily on our supporters across the country early and often this year to ensure that we're as competitive as possible on the ground and on the air."
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