WASHINGTON — A February increase in financial support for underdog candidate Rick Santorum was too little and too late to slow the better-financed Mitt Romney, who coasted to a convincing victory Tuesday in the Illinois Republican presidential primary.
Santorum's campaign raised $9 million in February, compared with $4.5 million in January. The Red White and Blue Fund, a "super" political action committee that supports the former Pennsylvania senator, raised $3 million, 41 percent more than it raised in January.
Romney's campaign raised $12 million in February, nearly doubling its January total, while the super PAC that supports the former Massachusetts governor, Restore Our Future, brought in $6.4 million; $3 million of that came from Texas homebuilder Bob Perry.
Romney got 47 percent of the vote in Illinois, Santorum won 35 percent, Texas U.S. Rep. Ron Paul got 9.3 percent and Newt Gingrich, a former speaker of the House of Representatives, lagged in fourth at 8 percent.
Wyoming businessman Foster Friess, who donated $600,000 to the Red White and Blue Fund in February, and retired Louisiana energy executive William Dore, who gave the group $500,000 last month, have aided Santorum's recent financial surge.
The pro-Santorum PAC also received a $1 million contribution last month from Annette Simmons, the wife of GOP donor Harold Simmons, a billionaire investor from Texas.
All told, the Simmons family donated to each of the top three GOP presidential candidates' super PACs in February. Harold Simmons gave $100,000 to Restore Our Future and another $100,000 to Winning Our Future, a super PAC that's supportive of Gingrich.
Gingrich's campaign raised $2.6 million in February, while his super PAC brought in $5.7 million. The Georgian's campaign also reported $1.6 million in debt, more than his cash on hand at the end of the reporting period, according to Federal Election Commission reports released late Tuesday night.
While Romney's financial position appears strong compared with his Republican opponents, President Barack Obama's fundraising apparatus is clearly in another league. The president's campaign raised $21 million in February, $10 million more than it did the previous month, and his campaign through February was sitting on a war chest of nearly $85 million.
Romney's campaign showed cash on hand of $7.3 million at the end of February, and his supportive super PAC, Restore Our Future, had $10.5 million in the bank.
Super PACs can accept unlimited contributions from individuals, corporations and labor unions and use them to pay for ads that support or oppose candidates. They emerged after the 2010 Supreme Court Citizens United decision and a lower court ruling enabling them.
These organizations are prohibited from coordinating with the campaigns they support, but they're often filled with former campaign staffers. So far, Restore Our Future has raised more than $43 million from a relatively small number of wealthy donors, and it's taken on the role of attack dog on behalf of the Romney campaign.
Some GOP stalwarts say the drawn-out campaign battles heavy on negative ads that super PACs have underwritten are hurting the party's brand.
"The candidates are focused too much on bringing down each other, when we ought to be talking more about Obama's failed message," said Henry Barbour, a Romney backer and Republican National Committee member from Mississippi.
Barbour, a lobbyist and nephew of former RNC Chairman Haley Barbour, cautioned that the "tone of the primaries has gotten unhealthy."
The pro-Gingrich super PAC, Winning Our Future, is the second-best funded presidential super PAC, having raised just under $19 million, with nearly 90 percent of it coming from casino owner and billionaire Sheldon Adelson and his family. In February, it raised $5.7 million, $5.5 million of it from the Adelson family.
Meanwhile, even as he outraises the entire Republican field, Obama is lagging behind his record fundraising clip of 2008.
A pro-Obama super PAC, Priorities USA Action, raised just $2 million in February. That comes after a mere $59,000 the previous month. The president, who'd been highly critical of super PACs, has changed his tune recently. The White House now is urging donors to support pro-Democrat super PACs.
Of Priorities USA Action's February total, $1 million came from Bill Maher, a TV comedian on HBO.
The biggest super PAC threat to the Democrats is American Crossroads, which was founded by Karl Rove, who was an adviser to Republican President George W. Bush.
Crossroads raised $3.4 million in February. The organization reported nearly $24 million in cash on hand through that month.
As for the parties, the Democratic National Committee reported raising $15 million in February, with $21 million in cash on hand, while the Republican National Committee raised $11 million and ended the month with nearly $27 million in the bank.
(The Center for Public Integrity is a nonprofit center for investigative journalism. The center's Peter Stone and Michael Beckel contributed to this report.)
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