Sen. Barack Obama's presidential campaign has collected a record-shattering $640 million, but only two of his staff members are among the 15 highest-paid workers in the general election, according to campaign finance records. The rest, including the three highest-paid, are employed by Sen. John McCain.
The Obama campaign, despite having more than 700 field offices across the country, compared with fewer than 400 for McCain, has spent slightly less on rent than its counterpart.
And even though Obama has raised $400 million more than McCain, he has spent less on fundraising consultants.
Obama has devoted enormous sums in this election to nearly everything, including more than $280 million for advertising and $31 million for the payroll. His half-hour prime-time TV commercial on Wednesday, which cost more than $3 million, was perhaps the most visible flexing of his financial muscle.
But the Obama campaign, under the watchful eye of its manager, David Plouffe, has worked hard to maintain a reputation for frugality.
McCain campaign officials pointed to steps they have taken to save money, a challenge made urgent after the campaign's implosion last year. But the campaign has also had far less to work with, constrained by the $84 million given to it for the general election under the public financing system.
Having opted out of public financing, Obama has spent far more than the combined total spent by President Bush and Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry in 2004, according to Federal Election Commission records.
The Obama campaign's gaping advantage is sharpest in its advertising budget and payroll. Last week, the Obama campaign spent nearly twice as much as McCain and the Republican National Committee on television advertising. Obama's payroll had nearly 800 employees in the first half of this month, twice as many as McCain's, with far more Obama-paid workers in closely contested states than McCain-paid workers.
Nevertheless, a review of FEC records shows that the Obama campaign has used several methods to keep expenses down.
Both campaigns have relied heavily on volunteers. The Obama campaign has increased its ranks beyond salaried employees who receive regular paychecks and benefits by enlisting hundreds of local per diem workers for get-out-the-vote efforts. The Obama campaign has made $3.2 million in per diem payments, many no more than a few hundred dollars and most often made for brief periods during the Democratic primaries. The McCain campaign has reported relatively few per diem expenditures.
Unlike its Republican counterpart, the Obama campaign has frequently used a provision in campaign finance law that allows supporters to donate work space for the campaign. The campaign has credited more than 250 people with making in-kind rent contributions totaling $210,000.
To be sure, a close look at campaign finance data shows that the Obama campaign has indulged in its share of luxuries. It has spent more than $5 million on renting arenas and other places for Obama's large campaign events. Obama campaign officials also appear to have devoted significantly more than McCain's organization to polling, about $3.8 million since July, compared with just over $1.1 million for the McCain campaign.