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Romney winning the mega-donor war

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Mitt Romney surged past President Barack Obama in May fundraising on the shoulders of big donors — an advantage the Republican nominee seems likely to sustain through November.

Romney and his super PAC allies and party team raised about $86 million in May, compared with roughly $65 million raised by Obama and his allies, according to campaign finance reports filed Wednesday.

And Romney's not stopping there; his team is gearing up for an elaborate display of donor schmoozing this weekend, inviting 100 supporters who have raised $100,000 or more tospend the weekend at a tony Utah ski resort with the former Massachusetts governor, his top campaign staff and GOP dignitaries such as Karl Rove and a host of prospective running mates, including Tim Pawlenty, Rob Portman, Paul Ryan and Bobby Jindal.

Obama's trying to keep up. While the president likes to cast his campaign as small-donor-powered, Wednesday's reports show that his allies are mounting their own big-money push, landing a trio of new million-dollar donors to a supportive super PAC and raising bigger checks into a campaign committee they quietly restructured to allow larger donations.

Taken together, the reports, filed with the Federal Election Commission, paint a picture of a Romney fundraising network built for the new big-money age that appears well positioned to challenge an Obama operation that in some ways is still struggling to adapt.

"It's easier to raise money in big chunks if there are people who are willing to give it that way, then it is to mobilize thousands of people to give $20 each," said Bob Biersack, a leading campaign finance tracker who recently joined the Center for Responsive Politics after decades at the FEC.

The mega donors' impact has expanded this year, he said "because they're able to give to the candidates, as well as the parties and the joint committees, and then give as much as they want to outside groups that they know are focused exclusively on helping that candidate."

Big donors had fueled gangbusters fundraising for a collection of GOP super PACs, including the one backing Romney, Restore Our Future, which pulled in $5 million, and Rove's American Crossroads, which pulled in $4.6 million, according to Wednesday filings. Repeat donors to the super PACs included Pennsylvania medical executive Rocco Ortenzio, Idaho vitamin executive Frank VanderSloot and a company controlled by Dallas developer — and Romney fundraiser — Harlan Crow. The three gave a combined $1.6 million last month.

But Wednesday's reports don't fully reflect their efforts to woo new donors who previously wrote big checks to Romney's GOP opponents, such as casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who pledged $10 million this month, and also has signaled he intends to give big to American Crossroads's nonprofit sister group.

Democrats have been wringing their hands for months about their inability to find an answer to Restore Our Future and a constellation of GOP-allied outside groups already spending heavily on ads attacking Obama.

They got some good news Wednesday, when the pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA Action, which had been struggling to woo big donors, reported pulling in $4 million in May — its best month yet by far. That came largely thanks to three new donors who gave $1 million each in May — developer Franklin Haney, Houston lawyer Steve Mostyn and philanthropist Barbara Stiefel — all of which had the group feeling good, and touting the impact of its ads attacking Romney over his tenure at the helm of the private equity firm Bain Capital.

But Priorities' $18.6-million total haul for the cycle pales in comparison with the $61.5 million raised by Restore Our Future.

Yet Wednesday's reports also illustrated how the mega-donors' significance increasingly reaches beyond the super PACs into the so-called hard money world of campaign committees.

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