President Obama has attended 191 fundraisers for himself and others, far exceeding the fundraising pace of presidents going back to Jimmy Carter as he drives to stockpile money for his re-election, according to new data compiled for USA TODAY.
The fundraising push comes as Obama's campaign has rebuffed requests from congressional Democrats to transfer campaign funds from the Democratic National Committee to bolster the party's efforts to retake the House and maintain control of the Senate.
His campaign is in talks with former President Bill Clinton to join him at fundraising events in the months ahead.
By comparison, President George W. Bush had headlined 134 fundraisers at this point in his first term, according to an analysis by Brendan Doherty, a political scientist at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., and the author of the forthcoming book "The Rise of the President's Permanent Campaign." Doherty maintains records on presidential activity back to the Carter administration.
Obama has surpassed the record 173 fundraisers Bush headlined during his entire first term, Doherty's numbers show. More than 10 months remain in Obama's first term.
The rising cost of campaigns and the explosion of new super PACs that can raise and spend unlimited money from corporations, unions and individuals help drive the pace, experts say.
"This election raises the possibility that someone will come and drop $10 million, $20 million or $50 million in the race," said Jonathan Krasno, a Binghamton University political scientist. "Politicians are at full, hyper-red alert."
Super PACs raised more than $126 million from Jan. 1, 2011, to Jan. 31 this year, and a recent USA TODAY analysis found that nearly 25% of the money came from five wealthy individuals.
"We are in a whole new world here," campaign adviser David Axelrod said Wednesday. "We would be insane not to be worried about that."
Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said he expected Republican-aligned outside groups to spend more than $500 million to attack the president.
Republicans, who have seized on the heavy schedule to deride Obama as "campaigner in chief," say the pace is a sign of money trouble for Obama.
"Fundraising is definitely his No. 1 priority," said Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski. "They are worried they don't have the fundraising advantage he once had because enthusiasm is down on his side."
Obama set fundraising records as a candidate four years ago, raising $745 million. For months, Obama campaign officials have tamped down the notion he would exceed his 2008 fundraising and collect $1 billion. Instead, they have bombarded people on their e-mail lists with urgent calls to donate. A recent e-mail pointedly asked supporters whether they were waiting for the GOP nominee to emerge before contributing.
"It is easier to raise money when there is one opponent," Axelrod said. But he said the "sense of urgency" is growing among Democratic donors, watching the protracted Republican nomination fight.
As he waits for the Republicans to pick their standard-bearer, the Obama campaign is spending money at a high rate. In January, Obama raised nearly $11.9 million in his principal campaign account but spent $17.7 million — a far higher burn rate than Bush's in January 2004.
Campaign officials are using their resources to build a campaign infrastructure in general-election battleground states. The campaign has 15 field offices in Florida and has opened 10 each in Ohio and Pennsylvania, Messina said. Last weekend, it registered thousands of voters in two other swing states, North Carolina and Virginia, he said.
A 17-minute documentary chronicling Obama's first term is on the way.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who won contests in six of 10 Super Tuesday states, announced Wednesday that he raised $11.5 million in February. That's up from $6.5 million in January. Obama officials declined to release their February totals.
Doherty's analysis covers fundraising through March 6 of the fourth year of each president's first term. He tallied events, not the number of days spent fundraising. During a seven-hour swing through New York last week, Obama crammed in four fundraisers.
Early on, Obama hit the fundraising trail often for fellow Democrats, headlining 90 events for party committees and candidates through March 2011, Doherty's numbers show. Since formally launching his campaign last April, Obama has attended 101 events to benefit his re-election and a joint fundraising effort with the DNC.
In a statement about fundraising requests from congressional Democrats, Messina said the campaign's "top priority" is the presidential contest, but the voter turnout operation it is building in key states "will help elect Democratic candidates up and down the ballot.
Most of the fundraising events headlined by Obama took place in Washington, 35, followed by California and New York with 32 and 30 events, respectively.
Doherty said it makes sense to stage most fundraisers in the nation's capital, but he said the heavy schedule still eats into Obama's time. "Something has to give," he said, "whether it's time with his family, time sleeping, time spent lobbying members of Congress or something else."
This story first appeared in USA Today.