Obama’s Mistake on Public Financing (and how McCain is skirting the law, too)

Today’s New York Times reported that life is not all peaches and cream for the Obama campaign after they opted out of the presidential public financing system.  (See Article “Straining to Reach Goal, Obama Presses Donors“)

Pushing a fund-raiser later this month, a finance staff member sent a sharply worded note last week to Illinois members of its national finance committee, calling their recent efforts “extremely anemic.”

The signs of concern have become evident in recent weeks as early fund-raising totals have suggested that Mr. Obama’s decision to bypass public financing may not necessarily afford him the commanding financing advantage over Senator John McCain that many had originally predicted.

But the campaign is struggling to meet ambitious fund-raising goals it set for the campaign and the party. It collected in June and July far less from Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s donors than originally projected. Moreover, Mr. McCain, unlike Mr. Obama, will have the luxury of concentrating almost entirely on campaigning instead of raising money, as Mr. Obama must do.

It is not yet clear whether the Obama campaign will be able to ratchet up its fund-raising enough in the final two months of the campaign to make up the difference.

Public financing is a boon to any politician who accepts it, as it allows her or him to run free from the strings attached to big-dollar-donations and to focus the campaign’s time on where it should be spent: connecting with voters.  This is why when I explained Public Financing to Congressman Nick Lampson, currently running in the most competitive House race in the country, he was exuberant to think of a time when he would no longer have to dial for dollars.  Considering the other two competitive House races in Texas, in CD 7 and 10, think of the race it would be if the campaigns were on equal footing moneywise and ideas, not dollars, affected the outcome of the race.

And, if you don’t think that money doesn’t change policy, think again.  Every issue, from the War in Iraq to Consumer Protection to Global Warming to Education has powerful monied interests who are willing to pour money into the debate to get what they want.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, McCain, once a champion of campaign finance reform, is still soliciting donations to his campaign, even though he has already accepted public financing money.  A loophole allows the campaign to get money for “compliance” issues, but really it’s a backdoor for the same kind of big money influence peddling we’ve seen so far, as recently as the last two weeks at the GOP and Dem Conventions.

Kate Kaye, the author of the blog who brought this to our attention, explained it best:

According to a disclaimer on the McCain campaign site, “Because the McCain-Palin Campaign is participating in the presidential public funding system, it may not receive contributions for the any candidate’s election. However, federal law allows the McCain-Palin Campaign’s Compliance Fund to defray legal and accounting compliance costs and preserve the Campaign’s public grant for media, mail, phones, and get-out-the-vote programs. Contributions to McCain-Palin Victory 2008 will go to the Compliance Fund, and to participating party committees for Victory 2008 programs.”

That Victory fund is operated by the compliance fund, the Republican National Committee, and the Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, and Pennsylvania GOPs.

Hmmm…I wonder what states are in the most contention this year….

The lesson is clear: we should support full, airtight public financing NOW and we should make our leaders accept it– a “Great divorce” of Money and Politics.

Obama originally opted out of public financing by citing that the presidential system was “broken” and that he had created a “parallel public financing system” via the netroots.  This, along with McCain’s continued fund-raising, is an argument to shore up the presidential system, not scrap it.

We can pass full public financing laws.  We can keep elections fair at the local, state, congressional, and federal level.  Currently, the Fair Elections Now Act sits idle in Congress with some serious inertial problems.  We should change that, and call our leaders and ask them to sign on to Fair Elections.  We can make it a priority of the next Congress, insuring that future elections are clean and fair.