John McCain raised almost as much money as Barack Obama in May, placing him virtually on the same financial footing as his Democratic rival — a level of parity that would have been unimaginable just a few months ago.
The Republican presidential nominee-in-waiting raised $21.5 million last month. He had $31.5 million in the bank, up $10 million from the end of April.
Obama had his weakest fundraising month of the year. The Illinois senator's campaign raised $21.9 million in May. The disclosure came a day after the Democratic candidate's reversal on the question of whether he would take public financing for his presidential bid, a move which drew sharp criticism from McCain.
Obama's campaign said it had $43.1 million in the bank at the end of the month, with debts of about $304,000.
McCain's campaign said the Republican spent $11.6 million during May and ended the month owing $1.27 million, with $31.5 million in the bank. That figure is up $10 million from the end of April.
Obama's fundraising figure for May is less than the $30.7 million he raised in April.
Still, Obama managed to raise slightly more than McCain while still fighting his way out of the Democratic primary. McCain, on the other hand, has been free to consolidate Republican support since he clinched the nomination more than three months ago and has been on an active fundraising schedule.
Overall, since the presidential campaigns began last year, Obama has raised $287 million, former first lady Hillary Clinton has raised $209 million and McCain has raised $115 million.
But $10 million of Obama's available cash can only be spent in the fall after the party national conventions, leaving $33 million for the summer months. Obama's decision to bypass the general election's public finance system allows him to use left over primary money in the fall campaign.
His campaign has racked up record-breaking fundraising numbers in a presidential run that will be the most expensive in U.S. history.
It raised about $36 million in January, $55 million in February and more than $42 million in March.
Obama reported spending $26.6 million in May. His heaviest spending was on advertising — more than $4 million buying time for television commercials. Obama had the most expensive payroll, spending $3.5 million on his staff, more than twice what Clinton spent and more than six times what McCain spent on his payroll.
Obama is the first U.S. presidential candidate to bypass the public financing system since it was created after the Watergate scandal in the mid-1970s.
Grass-roots financial machine
He built a formidable grass-roots financial machine during his primary battle against Clinton, raising more than $265 million from more than 1.5 million donors, many of whom gave in small increments.
How the Obama and Clinton campaigns can help each other will be a likely topic of discussion when Obama, the Democrats' nominee in waiting, meets with Clinton and some of her top fundraisers on Thursday in Washington. The two then plan to campaign together on Friday. But so far, the Obama camp has not devised a Clinton assistance plan.
Asked on Friday whether Obama's finance team had discussed ways to ease Clinton's debt when it met Thursday night in Chicago, Obama communications director Robert Gibbs said "those meetings have focused more on what these two can do together to bring the party together and move it forward than it has on these logistical details."
Clinton and her backers, meanwhile, are eager for some help.
The former first lady, who bowed out of the Democratic contest on June 7, reported a $22.5 million debt at the end of May, more than half of which was a personal loan to her presidential campaign. She lent her campaign nearly $2.2 million in May, bringing her total personal investment in the campaign to $12.175 million. She had $3.4 million cash on hand left for primary spending. She also had more than $23 million for the general election, money her campaign cannot use.
"It's far more productive for Obama to have Hillary 100 percent focused and engaged on campaigning and raising money for him in the fall rather than having to do fundraisers at the same time to retire her debt," said Hassan Nemazee, a Clinton national finance chairman.
"It would clearly make life easier for those of us in the Clinton world who would like to help Senator Obama raise the types of moneys that are necessary from the Clinton world to be in a position to point out, 'Look what Senator Obama has done for Senator Clinton.'"
Clinton campaigned actively through the last Democratic primaries on June 3 before succumbing to Obama and is expected to have even greater debt at the end of this month. In a call to donors on Thursday, she said she would concentrate on paying off money owed to vendors, not her personal loans.
Of her $10 million in debts to vendors, nearly half — $4.6 million — is money the campaign owes Clinton adviser Mark Penn and his polling firm. Clinton reported spending nearly $19 million — more than $3 million on media advertising and $3 million on phone banks. She spent more than $5 million on travel.