Money magic now a mystery

What’s up with Barack ObamaBarack Hussein Obama2020 Democratic Party platform endorses Trump's NASA moon program Davis: My recommendation for vice president on Biden ticket Statehood for Puerto Rico and the obstruction of justice MORE’s fundraising?

We’re more than halfway through July, and Obama has not yet released information on how much he raised in June.

John McCainJohn Sidney McCainAsian American voters could make a difference in 2020 Budowsky: Trump October surprise could devastate GOP The Memo: Biden seeks to peel older voters from Trump MORE made public his figure — $22 million — quite a while ago. But no word from Obama.

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It would seem that the last thing Obama has to worry about is money. But his fundraising has, in fact, been on a downward trend since the early primaries.

February, when Obama took in $55 million, was his biggest month ever. In March, he raised $40 million. In April, he raised $31 million. In May, it was $22 million.

That’s why the June numbers are important. Has Obama rebounded with another big fundraising month? Or is he still below those record-breaking hauls of a few months ago?

It was his phenomenal ability to raise money, particularly through small donations on the Internet, that led Obama to opt out of the campaign finance system.

Why abide by the measly $84 million general-election spending limit if you can raise zillions more from those adoring Internet supporters?

The only problem is, the $84 million limit applies to the period after the conventions. Obama and McCain are now raising money for current campaign operations, and the greater Obama’s advantage, the more he will be able to swamp McCain in advertising.

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But how great was that advantage in June?

Now, perhaps Obama is just being coy, and he will soon release figures showing a huge haul. But at the moment, some of his partisans are sounding a bit worried.

“Small-dollar giving seems highly dependent on the intensity of the moment and the spikes of the campaign cycle,” my page-mate Josh Marshall wrote on his blog recently. “During the heat of the Obama-Clinton battle, giving money was one of the most direct ways supporters around the country could participate in the fight … in relative terms we’re in a bit of a downtime now, a lull.”

And it might be more than that. Some Democrats believe Obama’s recent “refinements” in position on issues like the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and the war in Iraq could diminish the enthusiasm of all those Internet donors.

By “refining” his stands, Obama damages his image — his brand, as the consultants say — as a new-style candidate.

“Where FISA and Iraq hurt him is with small donors on the Internet,” one Democrat told me this week. “If the brand is really damaged, then the decision to opt out [of the campaign finance system] becomes a lot riskier, because the $100 donor is the donor who pays a lot of attention to that stuff. It’s the FISA-head who gave him 100 bucks.”

Whatever the case, Obama seems to have become more aggressive recently in his search for small donations.

A few days ago, the campaign sent out a poor-poor-pitiful-me e-mail claiming that McCain and the GOP are “raking in huge donations from those who want to keep Washington just the way it is.” The only solution, Obama said, is for people to send his campaign $25 immediately.

Then, Obama sent out another appeal, announcing a drawing in which four lucky donors will win a fabulous trip to Denver to hear Obama’s historic convention acceptance speech.

“Make a donation of $25, and you could go Backstage with Barack,” the appeal said.

Now, none of us needs to feel sorry for that poor Mr. Obama. He’ll be fine. But will his fundraising gambit succeed as he hopes?

York is a White House correspondent for National Review. His column appears in The Hill each week. E-mail: byork@thehill.com