Obama Edging Away from Public Financing Option

When I read this morning that John McCain was talking about potentially accepting public financing in the general election, I worried that one of my fears about a Barack Obama candidacy would be realized: That he would, as he suggested last year, follow the Republican nominee's suit in opting in to the public financing system, constraining his ability to run a 50-state strategy (because of the spending cap) and forgoing the opportunity to capitalize on the Democrats' (and his) fundraising advantage over the GOP. But now, according to Ben Smith, the Obama campaign is edging away from this possibility.

Obama's campaign is backing away from suggestions that the Illinois senator would publicly finance his campaign in the general election, if he's the nominee, and referring to public financing as an "option" -- not as the "pledge" McCain's campaign claims Obama made.

McCain campaign manager Rick Davis told reporters yesterday that McCain would run a publicly financed campaign in the general election if Obama would.

[...]

I first pressed Obama's camp on this particular point more than a year ago, on Feb. 7, 2007, when they first floated the notion. And they deliberately preserved some wiggle room then.

"We're looking to see if we can preserve the option," spokesman Bill Burton said, when asked if the campaign was committing, conditionally, to public financing,

I asked Burton again today if this was a "pledge," and he repeated that it's an "option."

As alluded to in my first paragraph, I am decidedly of the opinion that the Democratic nominee -- whether Obama or Hillary Clinton -- should opt out of the public financing system in the general election. The hard cap on overall spending required of candidates participating in the public financing system makes it effectively impossible to run a meaningful campaign in more than about a dozen states -- let alone run a 50-state strategy. This means that playing in states that are trending blue but not quite there yet (think Colorado, Virginia, etc.) becomes a significantly more risky proposition because every cent spent there is a cent that can't be spent in more traditional swing states like Pennsylvania or Florida. But by opting out of the public financing system a candidate is not subject to spending caps, meaning that the opportunity cost of campaigning in reddish-purple states -- or even red states -- is significantly lower at the limit on spending is only how much money can be raised, rather than an arbitrary number set by the number of Americans checking off a box on their tax filings.

Beyond that, opting out of the public financing system could ironically serve the cause of campaign finance reform. As the system currently stands, unregulated soft money pours into 527 organizations and other such committees, both because the presidential campaigns themselves can't accept contributions during the general election and because the campaigns are limited in what they can spend. But there is a possibility that 527 organizations will be denied some of their funding -- or, at the least, they will be made relatively less important -- by the official presidential campaigns being able to spend hundreds of millions of dollars rather than just tens. Why is this important, you ask? The hundreds of millions of dollars that have already flowed into the coffers of presidential candidates and would continue to do so are regulated, limited and largely disclosed. They are all hard money contributions. In the battle between hard money and soft money, if the amount of hard money that can be spent comes closer to parity with the soft money -- or even overtakes it -- as a result of candidates opting out of the public finance system, the overall financing of the general election will actually be more regulated and open than if the candidates opted into the program.

So here's to hoping that Obama says no, rather than yes, to this option.

Tags: Barack Obama, Fundraising, public financing (all tags)

Comments

43 Comments

Re: Obama Edging Away from Public Financing Option

1) Obama absolutely should not accept public financing in the general election.

2) The fact that Obama made such a big deal last year about the fact that he was giving consideration to taking public financing during the general election is yet another example of Obama engaging in obnoxious moral preening and hectoring, then finding a convenient way of not having to actually abide by the same standards and principles he applies to others.  

by blueflorida 2008-02-14 09:25AM | 0 recs
Re: Obama

I agree. Obama should have kept his mouth shut.

by Ga6thDem 2008-02-14 09:29AM | 0 recs
Obama's campaign is funded by small donations

from ordinary people, unlike Hillary and McCain who are the favorite choices of lobbyists and PACs.

Obama can decide not to accept public funding, and he'd still have the high ground because his sources of funds are ordinary people.

Obama should simply stay out the discussion w/ McCain on this by saying that the Dem nomination process is still underway, and hence McCain should make his decision on his own.

by NeuvoLiberal 2008-02-14 09:55AM | 0 recs
Re: Obama's campaign is funded by small donations

That is how they are responding. FT.com

A spokesman for the Obama campaign said: "We are focused on one race at a time. We will address that question in the general election."

Who knew..when Obama brought this up McCain's campaign had been written off. Obama will have to take a little hit on this in the GE now.

But...America is not crying out for public financing so it won't be a problem.

by JoeCoaster 2008-02-14 10:05AM | 0 recs
Re: Obama Edging Away from Public Financing Option

blueflorida:

Why do you feel Obama should not accept public financing?

No troll, I'm curious as to why you think it's a bad idea.

by Marsha1 2008-02-14 09:52AM | 0 recs
Re: Obama Edging Away from Public Financing Option

I think the argument is that he'd be able to raise a lot more money than McCain, and so accepting public financing would be throwing away a big advantage.

by OrangeFur 2008-02-14 09:57AM | 0 recs
Re: Obama Edging Away from Public Financing Option

One practical reason is that a key lesson from 2004 is that after 2002's BICRA, the national or state party or a consortium of 527s can no longer serve as the main hub of GOTV and base turnout organizing. It really needs to be the presidential nominee's campaign committee. And, this function is strategically central to the fate of the entire Democratic ticket on election day. If Obama accepts public financing then he limits and undermines the scale and quality of Democratic GOTV organizing. Not only do our prospects of winning the White House decrease, but our prospects of maximizing our Congressional, Senate, State Legislative, Gubernatorial, etc gains decrease as well.

by blueflorida 2008-02-14 09:59AM | 0 recs
Re: Obama Edging Away from Public Financing Option

Accepting public financing limits the amount he, or any candidate can spend, then, right?

by Marsha1 2008-02-14 10:32AM | 0 recs
Re: Obama Edging Away from Public Financing Option

This is the kind of stuff that constantly worries me in an Obama vs. McCain contest. McCain is already putting Obama in a corner and making him look slippery.

It seems slowly but surely Obama is being painted into a corner by his own careless actions and words. Anyone who thinks Obama is a sure win against McCain is living in lalaland.

by Ga6thDem 2008-02-14 09:27AM | 0 recs
Re: Obama Edging Away from Public Financing Option

It really pains me to agree with this comment.

How is it possible that McCain is already managing to put Obama on the defensive about "clean money"?

Obama looks dirty, and he hasn't done a fu&C(* thing!

We need to push back hard, all of this, quickly.

"Loophole John" McCain is working to manipulate the fine print in his own rotten McCain-Feingold Act!

A boat load of 527's are steaming into port, ready to swiftboat Obama -- while McCain calls him dirty, bought and paid for -- on the clean-money, public dime.

by goldstone 2008-02-14 09:34AM | 0 recs
Re: Obama

Clean money? Obama stupidly didn't put any qualifications when taking overseas money. Hillary makes them send documentation-Obama requires none. The GOP is going to go over his overseas donor list and beat him over the head with this.

Obama has been too concerned about ratcheting up the Hillary Hate to worry about the GOP. He's never had to run against a Republican and doesn't know how is the bottom line.

I don't know how to fight this because he has stepped in it big time.

by Ga6thDem 2008-02-14 09:46AM | 0 recs
Hillary and McCain lead in lobbyist and PAC money.

1st and 2nd.

by NeuvoLiberal 2008-02-14 09:49AM | 0 recs
Re: Hillary and

I'm talking about overseas donations not PAC money. Obama has taken all that money and is even trying to be slippery about it by having wives of lobbyists make donations.

I think voters will be more worried about him taking overseas donations than any PAC money?

by Ga6thDem 2008-02-14 10:29AM | 0 recs
I don't take narratives at their face value

I am sure Obama campaign will respond those claims about overseas donations with a satisfactory response.

Obama campaign contributions page asks for this statement from all donors:


Check this box to confirm that the following statements are true and accurate:

  1. I am a United States citizen or a lawfully-admitted permanent resident.
   2. I am at least 16 years old.
   3. This contribution is not made from the general treasury funds of a corporation, labor organization or national bank.
   4. This contribution is not made from the funds of a political action committee.
   5. This contribution is not made from the treasury of an entity or person who is a federal contractor.
   6. This contribution is not made from the funds of an individual registered as a federal lobbyist or a foreign agent, or an entity that is a federally registered lobbying firm or foreign agent.
   7. The funds I am donating are not being provided to me by another person or entity for the purpose of making this contribution.

In the mean time, fear-mongering about it your part is inappropriate.

by NeuvoLiberal 2008-02-14 10:34AM | 0 recs
'on your part'

by NeuvoLiberal 2008-02-14 10:43AM | 0 recs
Re: Obama

This is an easy one to bat back. Just two words: Freedom's Watch.

The Bush-connected group is talking about spending $250 million dollars trashing the Democrats next  year, and the Democratic nominee needs money to defend against the smears of the shadowy front-groups of the right-wing that McCain's legislation makes possible.

Easy. Even get a swipe at McCain in there and tie him to Bush. All in one sentence. I'm sure if I spent any time I could make it punchier, but that's just off the top of my head.

by BriVT 2008-02-14 09:55AM | 0 recs
Re: Obama

I agree but Obama has claimed to be for a "different kind of politics." I don't know if it would work for him as well as it would for Hillary. He's kind of boxed himself in again.

by Ga6thDem 2008-02-14 10:31AM | 0 recs
Re: Obama

Nah, add some stuff about the power of the small-donors to stand up to the big-money interests funding the shadowy right-wing attack machine, and you've got the "new brand of politics" in there, too.

Good thing is, it's all true.

by BriVT 2008-02-14 10:56AM | 0 recs
Re: Obama Edging Away from Public Financing Option

Yes, you've made it very apparent that you're concerned about McCain.  Terrified, one might say.

by rfahey22 2008-02-14 10:19AM | 0 recs
Re: Obama

McCain can be beat but not by letting him box you in. He's defining the debate. I just can't see Obama being able to do it.

by Ga6thDem 2008-02-14 10:33AM | 0 recs
Re: Obama Edging Away from Public Financing Option

With the way Dem $ is flowing this year, he'd be crazy to go the public financing route. He's not crazy.

Don't expect McCain to, either. But he IS crazy.

Frankly, I wish public financing was a more viable option, but the landscape just isn't right for it.

by PhilFR 2008-02-14 09:32AM | 0 recs
Re: Obama Edging Away from Public Financing Option

Is campaign finance no longer a Democratic issue?

by bruh21 2008-02-14 09:39AM | 0 recs
Re: Obama Edging Away from Public Financing Option

Fixing it is, but we're going to have to win first to stand any chance of doing that. There's no reason to give in and accept public financing as the system currently stands in this electoral climate. The Democratic nominee will have a huge advantage and a large amount of it will be coming from small donors so the influence of their money won't be an issue.

by Quinton 2008-02-14 09:44AM | 0 recs
Re: Obama Edging Away from Public Financing Option

"Fixing it is, but we're going to have to win first to stand any chance of doing that."

How do you do that when you've accepted money form tainted resources?

What do you think they expect back, in return, men like Nadhmi Auchi, who contributed directly to Obama, through his wife, via his Panamanian company, FINTRADE?

An invitation to the White House, and "we call it even?"

With all due respect, that's naive, or disingenuous.

And if the money goes back to the middle east, it can indicate terrorsim.

And now it's an issue of national security.

by Marsha1 2008-02-14 09:58AM | 0 recs
Re: Obama Edging Away from Public Financing Option

I believe the candidates are all just paying lip service to change. They know, and we should  know that legislation is written whole sale in Washington by these anti American people forces. It's corrupting the process. But win win win- that's what counts until it bites you  in the ass.

by bruh21 2008-02-14 10:02AM | 0 recs
Re: Obama Edging Away from Public Financing Option

It's Obama, of course it was always a scam. That's one of the things I like about Hillary, she doesn't play these games. She supports public financing, but she wasn't going to make false promises about using it in this election.

by souvarine 2008-02-14 11:19AM | 0 recs
Re: Obama Edging Away from Public Financing

I don't believe either one of them cares about this issue. Nor do I think many Democrats do. I wish I were wrong,but I think its just not there as a consideration. This is the culture now.

by bruh21 2008-02-14 11:38AM | 0 recs
Re: Obama Edging Away from Public Financing Option

more of the same. lofty promises but when it comes down to it, Obama is a standard politician.  I will support him if he is the nominee but I a realistic that he will be more of the same.

by gomer 2008-02-14 09:46AM | 0 recs
Re: Obama Edging Away from Public Financing Option

What if he accepted the $85M for the presidential race and re-worked his fund-raising machine to support Democratic down-ticket races across all 50 states?  With a clear message to supporters of this intention I don't see why the significant amounts contributed would not continue.  What's the problem with that?

by Shaun Appleby 2008-02-14 09:54AM | 0 recs
Stretching


A spokesman for Mr. Obama, Bill Burton, said, "We hope that each of the Republican candidates pledges to do the same."

Mr. Burton added that if nominated Mr. Obama would  "aggressively pursue an agreement" with whoever was his opponent.


I don't see the need to spin this. Burton specifically uses the word pledge; that's the context and deal.

by Jerome Armstrong 2008-02-14 10:23AM | 0 recs
Re: Stretching

Well, that quote from a year-old article is apparently no longer operable.

by Jonathan Singer 2008-02-14 10:44AM | 0 recs
a bridge too far

That statement was $150,000,000 ago.  

Obama has raised this freakish amount of money the right way, the clean way, the grassroots way, YOUR created way.  No one realized you could raise this kind of money in early 2007 because no one ever had.  Obama (and your candidate) have.  

The Obama and Clinton candidacies are not good measuring sticks for discussing public financing because they are historic and exceptional candidates involved in a once in a lifetime epic battle for the nomination.

I'll accept McCain's charges of hypocrisy in exchange for a 2 or 3 multiple edge in general election money.  McCain himself has been hypocritical on the issue and I can't see it resonating with the public.  Obama can still speak out forcefully against 527 and lobbyist money because those sources of money are not transparent and accountable.  That's the real reasoning behind public financing anyway.

No traction here.

 

by mboehm 2008-02-14 11:01AM | 0 recs
integrity measuring stick

Clinton never pledged to use public financing, she refused to lie to us. Obama did, used his pledge to bash Clinton as "part of a corrupt system", and now of course it is obvious that his word was never sincere.

by souvarine 2008-02-14 11:23AM | 0 recs
Re: Obama Edging Away from Public Financing Option

This is going to cost Obama if he gets the nomination.

by americanincanada 2008-02-14 10:27AM | 0 recs
Re: Obama Edging Away from Public Financing Option

I don't see this as a major problem. There are much more important issues that will decide the election like Iraq, health care and the economy. Anyway, it could be argued that McCain has boxed himself in. Can you really see him bring up McCain-Feingold over this when it is one of the rights main reasons for distrusting him?

by conspiracy 2008-02-14 10:43AM | 0 recs
Re: Obama Edging Away from Public Financing Option

Yes he isn't Bush. Which is exactly why the right don't trust him. He isn't going to make a big deal of this because he can't if he wants to win - it would be no good winning indies and Dems if he can't get Repubs out to vote and many will sit on their hands if they hear him make a big deal of campaign finance. That is why he isn't really such a strong general election candidate. Most tack to the center after the primary - he has to tack right.

by conspiracy 2008-02-14 12:14PM | 0 recs
Re: Obama Edging Away from Public Financing Option

Repugs obstruct at least two bills and 1 memorial in the house today

by ccokz 2008-02-14 10:37AM | 0 recs
Re: Obama Edging Away from Public Financing

By the way, I note the utter distain for truth that is implicit in all of this. Why should the American people trust us? Because the GOP is worse?

by bruh21 2008-02-14 10:38AM | 0 recs
Re: Obama Edging Away from Public Financing Option

please stop doing that. And you know what I referring to. It's offensive.

by bruh21 2008-02-14 11:39AM | 0 recs
Re: Obama Edging Away from Public Financing Option

Please stop doing that.

by bruh21 2008-02-14 05:00PM | 0 recs
Re: Obama Edging Away from Public Financing Option

Obama can not accept public financing if he intends to win the Presidency. It kills the "movement," and nullifies so much of the coattails argument and the electability argument that it would basically be akin to Obama standing up and saying "I'm a fraud."

by JDF 2008-02-14 11:58AM | 0 recs
Re: Obama Edging

Yes, it would be such a shame to get the money out of politics.

by RDemocrat 2008-02-14 12:37PM | 0 recs
Re: Obama Edging Away from Public Financing Option

OK, so how's this one?

1. The DNC should have Obama film a long series of ads, now, cheaply with consumer-grade equipment, delivering his entire platform in detail, in serial format.  (I support Obama and believe that he is much more clear on how his principles will translate into policy than most people give him credit for.)  This will serve as compelling, intense material on its own, and can also be source material for soundbyte-driven advertising.

  1. Obama should then accept public financingg.
  2. All of the fundraising for the election will happen through the DNC, which already raises a ton of money on behalf of the Democratic nominee.  It will have an enormous war chest, a leader who breathes and bleeds the 50-State Strategy, and plenty of beef to distribute independently of the Obama Campaign.  Howard Dean was the first to articulate the 50 State Strategy -- why not leave the party-building to him?  Obama can run clean, in 50 states, doing things on a true shoestring, speaking to crowds, doing his thing.  

Imagine... </faux drama>

by Pogo 2008-02-14 02:57PM | 0 recs

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