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With donors tough to find, Romney faces dilemma

Self-funding campaign may hurt his image

Richard Drew/associated press

Fund-raising by Mitt Romney matched his 2008 total through Jan. 31.

There are still no plans for Mitt Romney to dip into his personal fortune, as he did four years ago, to bankroll his candidacy, several campaign advisers said this week, even as the battle for the Republican presidential nomination looks increasingly like it will be a long and expensive fight.

Romney leads the GOP field by far in fund-raising, taking in about $75 million through the end of last month, and he is expected to have collected about $2 million at a series of four events in New York City and Connecticut during a fund-raising blitz Wednesday and Thursday. But his campaign continues to spend heavily in key states in its effort to halt the rise of Rick Santorum, whose once woeful fund-raising approached that of Romney’s last month.

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Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul did not respond to a Globe inquiry about whether tapping the candidate’s personal wealth is an option, other than to say in an e-mail that the campaign had its “second best fund-raising month to date in February.’’

Rick Santorum, with his wife, Karen, in San Juan Thursday, has increased his fund-raising haul.

RICARDO ARDUENGO/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Rick Santorum, with his wife, Karen, in San Juan Thursday, has increased his fund-raising haul.

A week earlier, Romney told reporters: “I don’t have any plans with regard to my campaign finances at this stage other than to keep on raising the money necessary to go forward.’’

The campaign has said it will report next week that Romney raised about $11.5 million and spent slightly more in February, ending the month with $7.3 million cash on hand. Meanwhile, Santorum’s campaign, which has raised about one-fifth the amount Romney’s has, reported taking in $9 million in February, much more than it had in the previous 10 months combined. The campaign has not disclosed its cash on hand.

‘There are no plans to have Mitt kick in money.’

Campaign adviser for Romney 
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In the battle of allied super PACs, Romney-friendly Restore Our Future has outspent Red White and Blue Fund, which supports Santorum, $35 million to $6 million, according to the most recent expenditure tallies of the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation.

Three Romney advisers said that regardless of the outcome of individual contests, the campaign is sticking to a game plan that does not include the candidate’s personal funds, though none could completely rule it out if circumstances change. In 2008 Romney dumped $42.3 million of his fortune into his campaign till before dropping out in early February.

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Through January of both 2008 and 2012, Romney had raised the same amount, about $63 million in contributions from others, more than any other Republican to that point in both cycles.

“There are no plans to have Mitt kick in money,’’ said one Romney campaign adviser, who, like the others, spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly. “This is built from the ground up.’’

“We’ve got a plan, and we’ve been focused and disciplined,’’ another adviser said.

Self-funding would undoubtedly feed the long-running narrative about Romney’s wealth, and the absence of Romney money has had another beneficial effect, one adviser said.

“It’s very hard to instill discipline in how you spend it when it seems bottomless,’’ the adviser said. As a result, the 2012 Romney campaign has been much more careful in how it spends, he said, compared with 2008, when it burned through more than $100 million, including the candidate’s cash.

After his losses in Alabama and Mississippi this week, Romney attended fund-raisers in Manhattan and Connecticut. Occupy Wall Street protesters appeared outside one of the New York events, which was organized by supermarket magnate John Catsimatidis. Among those attending were New York Jets owner Woody Johnson, former Massachusetts governor William F. Weld, former US senator Alphonse D’Amato, and many Wall Street executives, according to various media reports.

All of this is happening in an extremely difficult fund-raising environment. Compared with the 2008 cycle, there has been a precipitous dropoff in fund-raising for candidates of both parties even when the fund-raising income of numerous super PACs, which did not exist four years ago, is factored. Super PACs may collect unlimited amounts from individuals and corporations but must spend money independently of candidates and political parties.

President Obama’s campaign is sending out frequent and urgent appeals for money as the fund-raising behemoth that broke records four years ago sputters and wealthy Republican donors write enormous checks to super PACs. The limit for individual contributions to a candidate is $2,500 during the nomination phase and another $2,500 in the general election campaign. That is up from $2,300 in the 2008 cycle.

A Globe analysis of fund-raising reports filed with the Federal Election Commission through January shows that nine Republican candidates for president this cycle had raised $163.8 million, down 36 percent from the $255.3 million raised ny nine candidates over the same period four years ago. Even with $64.1 million raised in that time frame by the 10 super PACs supporting specific GOP candidates - and often in six-figure and million dollar contributions - the total is significantly less than in 2008.

Obama has raised roughly what he took in over that same period four years ago - $139.7 million this cycle compared with $137.5 million in 2008 - but he has the advantage of using the Democratic National Committee to help him raise money jointly and with higher contribution limits than four years ago. Moreover, in 2008, six other Democratic presidential candidates vying with Obama raised about $220 million over that period, meaning a lot of Democratic money is still on the sidelines or no longer available.

The pro-Obama super PAC, Priorities USA Action, lags behind most of its Republican counterparts, taking in about $6.5 million through February.

The economy is a major reason fund-raising totals are way off in this cycle, said David Browning, who was Romney’s fund-raising consultant in Florida four years ago and has worked for numerous GOP campaigns in Florida.

Traditional sources have vanished since the economic downturn that started in late 2008, he said.

“In 2008, there were a lot of entrepreneurs in real estate or people in the construction industry who were a large part of the donor base,’’ said Browning, who supports Romney but is not working for him this cycle. Both economic sectors were decimated in Florida, he said.

“You have to take them out of the equation now,’’ he said. “They were part of the donor base that doesn’t exist any more.’’

Brian C. Mooney can be reached at bmooney@globe.com.

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