Rick Perry raises $17 million. Is that really a lot?

Rick Perry beat Republican presidential primary opponent Mitt Romney in the fundraising race during the third quarter of 2011. But Perry's war chest may be less impressive than it appears.

Jim Cole/AP
Republican presidential candidate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, speaks during a 2012 presidential campaign event in October, in Hampton, N.H.

Wow – Rick Perry raised $17 million for his presidential effort in this year’s third quarter. That sounds like a huge pile of cash. But is it, comparatively speaking?

Well, yes. And no.

Yes in the sense that it’s a lot more money than we (you and I) have raised in our third quarter. Yes in the sense that it’s more than rival Mitt Romney is likely to rake in during the same period. Romney’s going to come in more around $14 million, according to a campaign spokesman.

But campaigns for the White House are long, expensive, and complicated. Perry’s haul may not seem that impressive once it’s put in a larger context.

First of all, every major candidate does well in their first quarter in the race. Their committed partisans are excited. Fresh springs of money are easy to tap.

Perry’s campaign noted proudly that 51 percent of his donors came from outside the state of Texas. But that means that 49 percent came from inside Texas – a pretty big indicator that what he’s got here is the initial gusher from his longstanding money team.

Second, the just-about-completed third quarter is typically not a great fundraising time. It includes summer vacations, and even hedge fund managers take time off in July.

Lower numbers for the non-Perry campaigns may simply indicate that some were taking a breather. Romney raised $18 million in the second quarter, for instance, prior to this quarter’s slightly lower figure.

Third, Perry’s competing with other candidate’s war chests. Remember, they’ve been at this for a while – Romney’s been a virtual candidate for years – and they’ve got cash piled up and waiting.

Mitt Romney already had a little over $12 million in the bank as of June 30, for instance, according to Federal Election Commission records. President Obama’s campaign had $37 million stashed away at the end of the second quarter. That’s right – more than twice what Perry raised. And Obama doesn’t face primary competition.

And fourth – yes, we have an even number of points today – Perry’s just-announced number refers only to one kind of finance, the traditional candidate campaign account limited by Federal Election Commission rules. In today’s post-Citizens United world there’s more than one way to pay for scary advertising about an opponent – and how Perry is doing in that money race is not yet known.

The newest money vehicle is a candidate-specific super political action committees, or "super PAC." These groups can take unlimited amounts of money from individual donors and sponsor activities aimed at promoting a particular presidential hopeful, as long as they don’t directly coordinate their activities with a campaign.

“Restore Our Future” is a Romney-oriented super PAC, for instance, that reported more than $12 million cash on hand at the end of the second quarter. More than 50 people gave all they could to the Romney campaign itself, then turned around and donated to “Restore Our Future”, according to an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics. One individual gave the super PAC more than $1 million.

Super PACs only report their activities twice a year, so we don’t know how Perry supporters stack up in this particular measure.

One last thing (OK, maybe we have five points today). Romney is personally wealthy. When he ran for president last time, he donated at least $35 million to himself. Perry’s third-quarter fundraising numbers may indicate that his campaign has ample signs of life, but it may be tough for the Texas governor to match his rival dollar-for-dollar, long term.

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