Thursday, June 19, 2008

Insult to Injury: Obama and His Money

Raise your hand if you didn't see this coming. Is there really a sizable group of people (who have been paying attention) that are surprised by Obama opting out of the public financing system for the general election? I'd imagine there aren't that many folks out there with raised hands. Let's put the shoe on the other foot for a minute. If the roles were reversed and McCain was the candidate who had made the choice to skip out on the public financing system, would the uproar be as big? Well, that's hard to say, but McCain likely could be counted on to have been a bit more disciplined than to make such a promise in the first place. That may be the difference. Sports blogger, Dan Shanoff, is fond of stating in instances of sports meets crime that it is the cover up that gets someone in trouble and not the crime itself. In politics, the game is slightly different. It isn't the decision that gets you in trouble, but the flip-flop instead. That is the case here. The uproar isn't over the decision to fund the campaign outside of the public financing system itself, but rather the promise and subsequent change.

Even then, is it really about the flip-flop? Or could it be that the GOP and its supporters are genuinely concerned about their chances in the fall? That's understandable. On the one hand, all the leading indicators signal a down year for the party of Lincoln. The economy has seen better days, support for the Iraq war remains low, and President Bush is fighting a weekly battle against setting records for new approval rating lows. So there's that, and now the Democratic nominee is going to have a money advantage too! What does that extra cash mean to Obama? Well, for once, a Democratic nominee will be the one with a cash advantage. It doesn't happen often. But that money advantage won't necessarily translate into more votes for the junior senator from Illinois. What it likely means is that McCain, who is already playing defense in a difficult environment for anyone with an R by their name, will be even more on the defensive.

Ads will surely be a part of the Obama camp's strategy (they already are), but grassroots efforts in seemingly unlikely states could be a part of the equation as well. Extra cash means Obama can make McCain play defense (eg: spend time and money) in states he probably wouldn't want to. Take Alaska, for instance. The polling that was out there yesterday continued to show a close race (at least for Alaska!) between McCain and Obama. If Obama can force McCain to defend Alaska, then keeping Kerry swing state wins like Pennsylvania or New Hampshire safe gets much easier. The good folks over at are already discussing the pros and cons of an Obama trip to the Last Frontier.

And that is the origin of the excitement on the left end of the blogosphere (some may argue there is only a left end) and the backlash on the right. This decision to opt out isn't the real issue. The fear of having to defend or delight in potentially being competitive in typically red states is the issue. Democrats should enjoy being the monied party for once because it won't last. What was it Bush said? Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice...well, you won't fool me again. The GOP will certainly heed that advice and store this memory away to be used in a less hostile environment.

Recent Posts:
The Electoral College Map (6/18/08)

Idaho Final Tally: 79.5% of Vote, 83.3% of Delegates

The Electoral College Map (6/15/08)


Robert said...

As a firm believer in public financing and one who checks that box on my tax forms, I think yesterday was a sad day -- just as George W. Bush forgoing public financing of his primary race in 2000 was a sad day. If Obama wins this Fall, and private financing is credited with a major role in his victory, then the era of public financing of primaries and elections will probably be over. This issue is certainly a legitimate issue to be raised in the campaign.

Having said that, it is very hypocritical of the Republicans, and particularly McCain, to criticize Obama on this matter. The Republicans qualify because they skirted the law in the 2004 campaign. McCain qualifies because he accepted public financing to get a loan before he declined public financing.

McCain-Feingold, an admirable attempt at campaign finance reform, has been rendered toothless with the lack of a quorum on the Electoral Commission. The system is broke. I don't see it being fixed regardless of the new occupant of the White House or new members of Congress.

On the whole, I don't think the flip-flops on public financing by Obama or McCain will affect many voters, unless one of them pushes the issue so hard that their hypocrisy on the matter shows.

Robert said...

I just read David Brooks comment on Obama's decision. He seems to have a clearer understanding of Obama than any other columnist. Find it at

Also, did you see that McCain has only a 1-point advantage on Obama in Georgia in the latest poll on RCP? I know it is only one poll, but it is intriguing.

Anonymous said...

A sad but inevitable day. The landscape has changed and the public financing system didn't change quickly enough to counter that. Did politics have something to do with that? Sure, but I'm not broken-hearted over this decision. The system is broken and like Florida and Michigan during primary season, sometimes the system just needs a shock to make it better. But like reforming the primary system, campaign finance reform isn't and won't be an easy task.

The 527 loophole in McCain-Feingold made that legislation toothless long before this current quorum issue arose.

Agreed, campaign finance is not a make or break issue for voters. What voters do want is a fair fight. And this move tilts the playing field potentially. That's where the McCain folks are hoping to make inroads on this issue.

Anonymous said...

Here's the link to the Brooks column from Rob

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I saw the Georgia poll. Bob Barr is making his presence felt here and in Alaska. That poll brought Georgia into the "McCain lean" category. I have been keeping up with the old average formula as well and even that one was pulled under the 10% line in Georgia for McCain. Obama likely won't win Georgia (famous last words), but Barr and Obama's financial advantage could really make McCain sweat it out here.

Arbitrista said...

The level of cost escalation in American politics is becoming alarming. Obama's might be the first billion dollar campaign. What happens in 8 years?

Anonymous said...

Oh, I don't know. That cost escalation is just keeping up with inflation, right? Well, maybe not.

Back in January, NPR's Morning Edition had a discussion about this campaign being the first billion dollar one. However, at the time they were operating under the assumption that both parties would opt out for the general election. At the end of April, all candidates had raised nearly $1 billion collectively, according to the FEC.

We'll have to see what Obama's campaign is capable of. I doubt they get to $1 billion (for the general election. If you look at his fund-raising over the course of the entire campaign, it would approach that.), but even if it was half that, it would still be $420 million more than McCain will have. The Washington Post has got "$300 million or more" as the bar for Obama fund-raising for the general. Thanks to Phil Klinkner in his inaugural post at The Monkey Cage for that link.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I didn't address the "what happens in 8 years?" question.

By then, assuming Obama is finishing up his second term, Jeb Bush will be waiting in the wings with billions ready to spend against whoever the Democrats want to throw at him.

Seriously though, it is a tough call. The system is broken and having a major party candidate opt out is only going to make reform that much harder going forward.

Let's also remember that the Supreme Court will have a say in this matter as well. Whatever Congress comes up with is likely to be challenged in court. The make up of the Court makes a lot a difference in how such a case would be decided.

I've opened up a can of worms on this one.