Political chatter from DC and NYC, the amNewYork way

For the love of money

(Credit: Politirazzi)

By Lynne Serpe

“Those with the most money are going to have the most influence.”

Obama spoke those words back in 2006 in apparent recognition that money has a major and corruptive role in American politics. And when he clocked in at $25 million raised in the first quarter of 2007, compared to Clinton’s $26 million, he automatically became a presidential contender.

Because, gee, what I want in a president is the ability to raise money.

Then later that year, he pledged — in writing — to forgo private funding and participate in the presidential public financing system when replying to a Midwest Democracy Network questionnaire. Of course, as we all know, he changed his mind (kind of like he has done with off-shore drilling) and with his $150 million fundraising in September, he has also pretty much destroyed national public financing. His total to date: $600 million and counting. If he does as well in October, he’ll be closing in on a BILLION dollars.

Oh yeah, he’s going to steady the economy. After all, he obviously has a lot of experience raising and spending money.

In comparison, the $84.1 million that McCain received by participating in the program (like every other presidential candidate since 1976) after the Republican National Convention seems paltry and insignificant, even though it is more than Bush or Kerry received in 2004. At the time, his decision seemed based on a combination of principle and practicality: his fundraising was slow. But his choice of running mate changed that dynamic; it’s hard to say how much he would have been able to raise in private funds.

There is no doubt that Obama’s financial lead will have an impact on Election Day; that his millions will have an influence. And so, his decision to break his promise — and then break fundraising and spending records — is being spun as a clear strategic victory since he is using that money to blanket the airwaves and pay for grassroots organizations in swing states.

Over three million people have donated to Obama’s campaign, which is impressive. But to keep it in perspective: that’s about 1 percent of the overall population and, according to the New York Times, there has been a proliferation of large donors.

Meanwhile, national public financing comes from a $3 check-off option on tax returns. While the number is dropping, something like 10 percent of taxpayers choose to participate in the program (down from 28 percent in 1980) and there is a clear record of who they are, unlike the legal requirement for small donors in election campaigns.

Of course, both candidates are helped by the spending of their respective parties and a range of political action committees, including independent 527s. There is no way to eliminate money from political campaigning, especially since the Supreme Court equates money with free speech.

But it was Howard Dean who pioneered grassroots internet fundraising and John Kerry who faced the Swiftboat Veteran accusations, so what exactly has changed since Obama told Larry King on January 2007 that the “presidential public financing system works.”

Sure, it works great: Obama gets to spend as much money as he can raise while McCain is limited to $84.1 million. Obama has so much money that I can’t watch television without seeing one of his ads — and I live in safely Democratic New York.

It’s obvious that our system of national public financing will need to change in order to survive. As much as I remain absolutely disappointed and disgusted by his reversal, Obama has clearly convinced millions of people that a broken system is worse than a broken promise.

So is it any use to ask Obama for a new pledge: If elected, will you fix the system?

Add new comment