Obama Opts Out Of Public Funds For General

by: Chris Bowers

Thu Jun 19, 2008 at 10:50


U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said on Thursday he has decided to forgo public financing of his election campaign against Republican John McCain.

The decision frees him up to collect money privately, which could be a help to him strategically ahead of November's election.

Obama should be able to raise at least more than triple the amount that he would have been given with public financing. This, obviously, will give him a financial advantage during the campaign, which should in turn help him win in November. An Obama victory in the general election is worth nearly infinitely more than following an abstract ethical principal about the role of private money in elections, especially considering that the vast majority of Obama's money will come from small donors giving $250 or less. The only donors he would owe his victory to are grassroots progressive activists.

I actually like McCain's attack on Obama over this, because it boxes McCain in quite nicely:

"Today, Barack Obama has revealed himself to be just another typical politician who will do and say whatever is most expedient for Barack Obama.

"The true test of a candidate for President is whether he will stand on principle and keep his word to the American people. Barack Obama has failed that test today, and his reversal of his promise to participate in the public finance system undermines his call for a new type of politics.

"Barack Obama is now the first presidential candidate since Watergate to run a campaign entirely on private funds. This decision will have far-reaching and extraordinary consequences that will weaken and undermine the public financing system."

So, now either McCain takes public financing, and faces a huge monetary deficit as a result, or McCain goes the private route too, and becomes "another typical politician," just like Obama.

Although, echoing Hans Gruber from Die Hard, I would say that Obama is an extraordinary politician, rather than just a common "typical" one.

And anyway, if Obama is typical, how can he be "elite?"

Also, I'm pretty sure that Ross Perot didn't take public financing, making the McCain statement wrong on the face of it.

This attack isn't going anywhere. The extra $150M that Obama will bring in from this will be far, far more valuable.  

Chris Bowers :: Obama Opts Out Of Public Funds For General

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Question on finance rules. (0.00 / 0)
Since Obama isn't taking public financing, is he allowed to use excess (unused) primary election money for the (post party-convention) general election?

In other words, if someone writes him a check 2 weeks before the July convention, does Obama have to use the money within 2 weeks or lose it, or is he allowed to spend it in, say, October?  

Wow (4.00 / 1)
It's amazing to me to see how quickly principle is put aside in favor of politics.

"An Obama victory in the general election is worth nearly infinitely more than following an abstract ethical principal about the role of private money in elections, especially considering that the vast majority of Obama's money will come from small donors giving $250 or less."

My God, Chris.  If the shoe were on the other foot, you would be crying bloody murder.

I might - MIGHT - have been able to support this decision if he had voluntarily placed a cap on contributions like Jerry Brown did.  But without the cap, I'm sorry, this is just a self-serving tactical maneuver that is going to set the cause of campaign finance reform back.  Way back.

I am one of the most die-hard, Yellow Dog Democrats you'll ever meet.  But let's call a spade a spade.  This is a beautiful political move, but substantively, it's pretty damn ugly.

http://polawtics.blogspot.com.  Where awareness of the internet happens.

Bloody murder (4.00 / 1)
"If the shoe were on the other foot, you would be crying bloody murder."

I would be? Can you dredge up all those posts where I ranted and raved about McCain opting out of public financing for the primary? I don't remember writing even one.

I don't think it is ugly at all. The vast majority of Obama's money comes from small donors. That is pretty beautiful, if you ask me.  

[ Parent ]
Yes because 2004 worked so well. (0.00 / 0)
Truly it was the essence of enlightened democracy to have the Kerry campaign hamstrung by limited cash, unable to hand out bumpter stickers to supporters in Ohio (I was there!), while unregulated 527 groups funded by multi-million dollar contributions spewed venom on the airwaves.

And boy was it fun to have voters be mad as hell because they had all been contacted by both the Kerry campaign and by Americans Coming Together which ran a parallel, better-funded GoTV operation, unallowed by law to share information with the Kerry campaign.

The current system is lame horse; it's about time someone shot it so that it can be replaced with something more sensible.  (Though perhaps as a vegan I should pick a better image.  Hmm...)

[ Parent ]
The cap would have made a lot of sense (0.00 / 0)
I agree with you that having a cap would have made all the difference in the world.  With a cap, he'd have some moral authority to argue that he was immune from big money influence, even with opting out.

And considering that so much of the money is from small donors, I think he could have had a cap and still maintained a huge financial advantage.

Maybe the cap will still come?

[ Parent ]
Exactly (4.00 / 1)
There are two principles at stake in public financing.

The first is the "anti-corruption" principle, which is basically that money is a corrupting influence and thus taking fundraising out of the equation will prevent politicians from becoming beholden to moneyed interests.  Without a cap, I don't see how Obama's opting out promotes that - bundlers can still bundle $2,300 checks and thus buy influence in the Obama adminstration.

The second is the "level playing field" principle, which is basically that the ability to raise money should not be the predominant, or a dominant, factor in elections.  Now, you might disagree with this, or it could certainly be argued that small dollar, internet-based donations are somehow "different" because they reflect political enthusiasm.  But, without a cap, the Obama position endorses the idea that a candidate with the ability to raise more money than their opponent should be allowed to exploit that advantage.  It's good for us this time, but the whole point of having a principle is that you follow it even when it's not easy or to your benefit.

http://polawtics.blogspot.com.  Where awareness of the internet happens.

[ Parent ]
The problem is the "X" factor of (0.00 / 0)
donations from the RNC plus 527s.  I think we'd be making a big mistake to think that McCain will not have the capacity he needs to run a vigorously negative campaign.  Now the BHO is the nominee, big pharma, the oil companies, the health insurance companies will hedge their bets, for sure, but don't kid yourself into thinking that they won't be trying to bankroll McCain's campaign.

This is a big unknown, and McCain's effort to focus attention on the measly money he'll get from public financing is a feat of misdirection.  The RNC is and will be FLUSH.

[ Parent ]
The extra $150 Million (0.00 / 0)
Do we have any clue how much Obama raised in May, or is expected to raise in June?  What about McCain?  How much does Hillary still have in her general election account?  If she were smart, she would (if she could) move it all over to the DNC.  Then no one could ever reasonably claim that she isn't a team player.

Public financing is a nice idea, but thanks to Mitch McConnell, the funding hasn't kept pace with the costs of running a successful campaign.  Just look at what McCain will have ($80+M, plus whatever he can raise via the RNC and 527s) versus Obama (Maybe a quarter of a BILLION dollars).  Another problem is that there are really no viability/credibility thresholds for the money at the primary stage.  That's why LaRouche can get matching funds, even though by DNC rules it is impossible for him to win the Democratic nomination.  Or that Al Sharpton and other candidates who run with no expectation of winning a single delegate can get matching funds to stay in nice hotels.  

With either McCain or Obama as president, our campaign finance rules will be dramatically overhalled.  Especially if Obama wins big without matching funds.  Republicans in Congress will be eager to change the matching funds system, assuming they are unsuccessful in abolishing contribution limits.

Truth over balance, progress over ideology


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