For Sen. Hillary Clinton, it was a monumental achievement: Her campaign announced in April that she had raised $26 million in the first quarter of the year, more than any other presidential candidate.
The tally was especially important because it nudged her past Sen. Barack Obama, whose campaign reported a surprisingly strong $25.7 million, and allowed her to claim victory in the "money primary" that is widely viewed as an early test of endurance in the Democratic race for the presidential nomination.
But like a certain home run record, Clinton's big numbers might require an asterisk.
Her campaign has since had to subtract hundreds of thousands of dollars from its first-quarter total because of a variety of problems, including donors whose credit cards were mistakenly charged twice, contributions exceeding the legal limit and checks that bounced. As a result, her total was reduced to $25.6 million -- dead even with Obama, whose first-quarter take also shrank, albeit to a lesser degree.
All the presidential campaigns have had erroneous or invalid donations. Clinton has reported the most this year, with $540,000. Mitt Romney had $514,000, which as a percentage of his total exceeded Clinton's, although it never endangered his status as fundraising leader among the Republicans. Among the other leading candidates, Obama had $114,000; Rudolph W. Giuliani and John McCain, both Republicans, reported $242,000 and $105,000, respectively; and John Edwards, a Democrat, had $104,000.
Though some questionable contributions are not unusual in big-money contests, a review of the first-quarter results reveals that in Clinton's case, they potentially had the effect of clinching her title as the all-around fundraising leader. The Clinton campaign scoffed at any suggestion that it could have gamed the system to come out ahead (there is no evidence that it did), pointing out that there was no way to know how much money was needed to surpass Obama in the closing days of the quarter.
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