(SOUNDBITE OF ADS)
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I'm Barack Obama and I approved this message.
MITT ROMNEY: I'm Mitt Romney and I approved this message.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
They can afford to. Some sort of political history was made last night when President Obama's campaign announced it has raised more than a billion dollars. NPR's Peter Overby has the final campaign finance disclosures from both campaigns.
PETER OVERBY, BYLINE: This wasn't exactly a surprise. Sheila Krumholz is director of the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that tracks political money.
SHEILA KRUMHOLZ: Each cycle, cycle after cycle, the money surges ahead far beyond our wildest expectations, far beyond the rate of inflation.
OVERBY: But she says Americans may not see it as a major problem, even after Mr. Obama rejected public financing four years ago, and that entire system broke down, and after the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, opening the door for outside groups to raise money far above the old legal limits.
KRUMHOLZ: I'm not sure that this will really raise any eyebrows. I think it is huge. I think it is meaningful. I don't think it's going to really create a shockwave.
OVERBY: The new reports cover just the first half of October. The Obama organization raised $90 million. Mitt Romney's operation raised 112 million. That brings Romney's total for the whole cycle to 863 million. And Mr. Obama's history-making fundraising still leaves him with a cash shortage - that is, if you can call it a shortage to have $125 million on hand and less than three weeks to spend it. Romney had 179 million. Again, Sheila Krumholz.
KRUMHOLZ: Team Blue and Team Red are now playing for keeps and it's come down now to these final days. They're going to be throwing everything they have at it.
OVERBY: Which brings us to another milestone: one million television ads in a presidential campaign. The Wesleyan Media Project says that threshold could well be crossed by Election Day. The Wesleyan Project is a three-college consortium that analyzes political advertising. In a new report, it says that already more ads have run in the 2012 general election than in the 2008 general election.
ERIKA FRANKLIN FOWLER: More ads that are crowded into fewer places.
OVERBY: That's how Erika Franklin Fowler sums it up. She's one of the project's co-directors.
FOWLER: In 2008, the Obama campaign took more of a national strategy.
OVERBY: And so it was on TV in many markets, but not this year. Fowler says the two campaigns have zeroed in on a few battleground states with a political ad version of shock and awe.
FOWLER: So if you're in one of those places you've been inundated. And if you're not in one of those places, really the only time you're seeing ads is if you happen to catch a national cable spot.
OVERBY: This is the first presidential campaign with superPACs, which were spawned by Citizens United and subsequent court rulings, and so-called social welfare organizations, which keep their donors secret, also rose in prominence. While the Obama campaign has run most of the ads supporting the president, Fowler says the Romney campaign lacked the cash to keep up.
FOWLER: The biggest role that the outside groups have played is really to prop Mitt Romney up, especially in September. But still in October, we've seen Romney heavily reliant on those outside interest groups.
OVERBY: And that has played to Mr. Obama's advantage. As candidates, he and Romney are entitled to lower rates for TV ads. The outside groups pay top dollar. And with fewer than 20 days left, it's a seller's market. Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.
INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.