No surprise. If you missed the early skirmishes on this subject between him and McCain — and judging by the sluggish comments on the posts, a lot of you did — revisit them now so that you’ll understand the stakes. If a candidate accepts public financing, he gets roughly $85 mil from the government to pay for his campaign on the condition that he not accept private donations. Obama pledged to do that last year and Maverick merrily followed suit. Now that he’s raising $40 million a month, that $85M figure doesn’t look so sweet. Which means it was a fait accompli that he’d break his promise and free himself up for massive private fundraising; the only question is what excuse he’d end up using. Here’s your answer:
Tonight at a fundraiser in Washington, D.C., at the National Museum of Women in the Arts — at a $2,300-per-person event for 200 people held before a $1,000-per-person reception for 350 people — Obama previewed his argument to justify this possible future discarding of a principle.
“We have created a parallel public financing system where the American people decide if they want to support a campaign they can get on the Internet and finance it, and they will have as much access and influence over the course and direction of our campaign that has traditionally been reserved for the wealthy and the powerful,” Obama said.
In other words, if the goal of public financing is to stop special interests from coopting cash-hungry candidates with big donations (doesn’t McCain-Feingold already do that to some extent?), then in theory a candidate whose money comes from hundreds of thousands of average voters in small donations is equally insulated from that risk. Obama raised $28 million online in January, per the Times, compared to $4 million from traditional donors. (McCain raised a meager $4 million online in March, leading to much teeth-gnashing and hand-wringing from Republican Internet consultants.) What’s going to happen when Hillary drops out and her own big money supporters — at least the ones who aren’t hopelessly disgruntled — start chipping in to Obama, though? True public financing prevents that; the Obama version of public financing, which is really just private financing with a broader-than-usual base, doesn’t. More to the point, who’s going to object if and when this happens? The left, for all its piety about campaign finance reform, won’t be pounding the table about it with Obama riding his cash rocket to the White House. The right has always treated campaign donations as a subset of free speech, which makes it hard to get too indignant about a candidate opting out and thereby giving his donors a “voice.” The only well positioned critic is Maverick himself, who’ll make a stink about Obama reneging on his pledge, get some minor political mileage out of it from a few weeks, and then go back to the hard business of figuring out how to fill a fundraising gap that may approach nine figures. Gulp.
Update: Why it matters.
Update: Milk it for all it’s worth. Because compared to the money, it ain’t worth much:
John McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds said today that only a “typical politician” would vow to accept public financing and then reneg [sic] on his promise. Bounds was, of course, responding to Barack Obama’s statement last night that his campaign has created a “parallel public financing system,” a hint, of course, that he’s likely to opt out if he’s wins the Dem nom.
“Barack Obama publicly promised the American people that he would accept public financing if he is the nominee of his Party,” Bounds said. “Launching his campaign by going back on a promise to voters would be dishonest, and exposes his ‘politics of hope’ as empty rhetoric out of a typical politician.”