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One Less 527 & Some Thoughts on Campaign Funding

UPDATE: Quite a few people continue to donate.
According to Talking Points Memo and others, is closing its 527 advocacy group in deference to Obama’s call to end such groups.

“This is an affirmation that we, like Senator Obama, believe that this election can be won by ordinary Americans giving small donations,” according to MoveOn spokesperson Ilyse Hogue.

No word yet on whether Sen. McCain wants or is capable of demonstrating similar influence. One suspects not.

On a related topic, much has been made, and the discussions continue, about Barack Obama’s announcement that he will not opt in to the federal matching funds typically used in presidential campaigns since 1976.

The controversy about his decision comes chiefly from answers to a questionnaire put forth by the Midwest Democracy Network. At the time he returned it, Obama was the only one of the then five candidates to have done so. The other four, including John McCain, did not, and have not, returned it.

Question 1B was put,

If you are nominated for President in 2008 and your major opponents agree to forgo private funding in the general election campaign, will you participate in the presidential public financing system?

He answered, Yes.

In the comments that follow the answer, he expanded with this clarification,

I have been a long-time advocate for public financing of campaigns combined with free television and radio time as a way to reduce the influence of moneyed special interests. I introduced public financing legislation in the Illinois State Senate, and am the only 2008 candidate to have sponsored Senator Russ Feingold’s (D-WI) bill to reform the presidential public financing system. In February 2007, I proposed a novel way to preserve the strength of the public financing system in the 2008 election. My plan requires both major party candidates to agree on a fundraising truce, return excess money from donors, and stay within the public financing system for the general election. My proposal followed announcements by some presidential candidates that they would forgo public financing so they could raise unlimited funds in the general election. The Federal Election Commission ruled the proposal legal, and Senator John McCain (R-AZ) has already pledged to accept this fundraising pledge. If I am the Democratic nominee, I will aggressively pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee to preserve a publicly financed general election.

Unfortunately for some, Obama’s answer is a little too nuanced for an evening news sound bite. As for me, it appears that he has not made an express, iron-clad promise though I can see how some would think that. I can see how some would suggest Obama has not “aggressively pursue[d] and agreement with” John McCain. The other side of that argument is the slippery method McCain used his potential federal funding as collateral for two bank loans, and then spoke of backing out of the program.

In February of this year, Obama said in Milwaukee: “If I am the nominee, then I will make sure that our people talk to John McCain’s people to find out if we are willing to abide by the same rules and regulations in respect to the general election.” But, he added, “it would be presumptuous of me to start saying now that I’m locking myself into something when I don’t even know if the other side is going to agree to it, and I’m not the nominee.” [from the same article as above]

Well, here we are today, with McCain all over the map on this and Obama may or may not have gone back on his word about federal (aka public) funding. And let’s look at that. It can be reasonably argued that with approximately 1.5 million donors giving an average of $109, refusing (and in some cases, returning) PAC and federal lobbyist money, and corporate money prohibited by law, Obama’s campaign is already publicly funded.

So, Obama got the DNC to fall in line with his donor guidelines; McCain still takes buckets of money from lobbyists and PACs — and so does the RNC. Obama has influenced (or motivated) MoveOn to shut down their 527; McCain says he’s powerless to do the same (sorry, I can’t find the quote. When I do, I will cite it).

To me, the big news is simply this: Obama’s campaign, while not nearly perfect, demonstrates a much higher level of integrity than the one-time, alleged reformer McCain’s. It’s more than we’ve seen in a very long time. It may be late, but it’s not a moment too soon.


  1. Jubal Jubal June 20, 2008



    Obama discovered he could raise gazillions over the Internet — more than through the matching funds system — so he’s breaking his promise.

    There’s nothing nuanced about that.

  2. Dan Chmielewski Dan Chmielewski June 20, 2008

    Excuse me; aren’t you the one who defends political speech. Obama targets tons of contributions and asks for small contributions, usually no more than $150. And if you’ve been tracking his fundraising for months, he’s been bringing in north of $50 million a month a couple of times. Now that he’s the nominee, you want him to stay at $80 million?

    Do you think McCain would stick to public financing if he could raise a ton of money? Please.

  3. Jubal Jubal June 20, 2008

    Don’t change the subject, Dan.

    Obama made a promise. He’s free to break that promise, which he is doing.

  4. Dan Chmielewski Dan Chmielewski June 20, 2008

    And Bush promised no nation building. And Bush promised to be a uniter, not a divider. And Bush promised, no swore an oath to protect and defend the Constitution, all of whicj he clearly did not do. But you defended him.

    I’m looking forward to plunking down my $2300 when Obama comes to the OC next time around. I’ll send you the picture.

  5. Jubal Jubal June 20, 2008

    Can you not change the subject?

    Obama broke his promise because it had become inconvenient to him. Toss out all the excuses and rationalizations you like. But that’s what Obama did.

  6. Dan Chmielewski Dan Chmielewski June 20, 2008

    Gosh, you’re right Matt. Obama did break his promise and its a dealbreaker for me. I guess I’ll vote for John McCain, a man who never broke a promise or changed his mind.

    Was the over the top dripping with sarcasm or not? I can’t tell

  7. Bill Spaulding Bill Spaulding Post author | June 20, 2008

    I reiterate my original assertion that 1,500,000 donors combined with no PAC or federal lobbyist money actually *is* public financing. And a careful reading of the full answer does not indicate an iron-clad promise to the contrary.

    One last thing, I would much rather have a politician who is up-front with his actions instead of this while sanctimoniously bashing Obama.


  8. Jubal Jubal June 21, 2008


    I don’t expect you not to vote for Obama. But saying it’s OK for him to break an inconvenient promise because others have done so isn’t a very good excuse.


    That whole structure in that article is a work-around McCain-Feingold restrictions.

    I wish McCain would man up and just admit McCain-Feingold is an unworkable assault on free political speech, admit he made a big mistake and call for junking the entire unholy mess.

    Unfortunately, this is an example of how he can — as a columnist pointed out — mistake stubbornness for adherence to principle.

    As for Obama, I don’t buy the whole “parallel public financing system” phony word game. Obama is able to raise shiploads of money online. Good for him. Let’s not dress it up and disingenuously claim it’s some kind of public campaign financing system, because it isn’t.

    And I’ll have to remember that we don’t have to keep promises unless they are “iron-clad.”

  9. lefty lefty June 22, 2008

    Much adieu about nothing . . . .

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