Friday, February 15, 2008

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Your political dare of the day

Elizabeth Bumiller reports in the New York Times that John McCain has come up with an interesting way of defusing Barack Obama's financial advantage:

Senator John McCain’s presidential campaign said Thursday that it stood by a year-old pledge made with Senator Barack Obama that each would accept public financing for the general election if the nominee of the opposing party did the same. But Mr. Obama’s campaign refused to reaffirm its earlier commitment.

The McCain campaign’s latest stand on the issue was first reported Thursday by The Financial Times. On Tuesday, one of Mr. McCain’s advisers told The New York Times that the campaign had decided to forgo public financing in the general election, an awkward admission for a senator who has made campaign finance reform a central part of his political persona.

That adviser was speaking on the assumption that Mr. Obama, who has broken all records in political fund-raising and is currently drawing more than $1 million a day, would find a way to retreat from the pledge in order to outspend his opponent in the fall by far. Under public-financing rules, the nominees are restricted to spending about $85 million each for the two-month general election campaign, far less than what Mr. Obama might be able to raise on his own.

On Thursday, in an effort by the McCain campaign to speak with one voice and put the onus for abandoning the system on Mr. Obama, several McCain advisers called on him to make good on his pledge. Mr. Obama was the candidate who proposed the pledge in the first place, in February 2007, a time when he was not raising the prodigious sums he is now.

Mr. McCain, co-author of the McCain-Feingold act of 2002, which placed new restrictions on campaign financing, was the only other candidate to take Mr. Obama up on his pledge.

At first blush, I think this is a double-edged sword for both candidates.

For McCain, proposing this reminds everyone of McCain-Feingold and potentially neutralizes Obama's fundraising power. On the other hand, McCain-Feingold hasn't really worked out as envisaged, and it's a major sore point with conervatives.

For Obama, accepting McCain's proposal would remind everyone that it was Obama who came up with the idea in the first place. It would also allow him to blunt McCain's attempt to woo back independents who have shown a liking for Obama. On the other hand, Obama's fundraising capabilities are quite prodigious. Furthermore, accepting now leaves him open to charges of taking the nomination for granted.

If you're Obama, do you accept the dare?

posted by Dan on 02.15.08 at 08:47 AM


It's also been suggested that the candidates could sidestep the pledge by agreeing to take public financing but having their parties pay (theoretically unlimited) sums for ads, voter turnout, and so on. Question: could the money the candidates raise personally be funneled into party coffers to do this? If not, what happens with donations already earmarked for the presidential campaign?

posted by: Aldous on 02.15.08 at 08:47 AM [permalink]

Ben Smith has him seriously entertaining the idea, at least:

posted by: Troll on 02.15.08 at 08:47 AM [permalink]

Pleasee.. this was John McCains way of saying that BHO must not talk the talk if he cannot walk the walk.. this is his way of saying that Obama is nothing more than a guy who talks a good game.

The funny thing is that Obama is the one who proposed that he would take public financing in 2007 if the opposing candidate also did the same and now he wants to CONSULT with his campaign. Really ? i guess he did not need to consult them back when he was mouthing off in 2007.

Obama is not going for public financing - he would be foolish to do that. What could how ever happen is that he could very well apply for some wiggle room by saying that he would accept public financing but he would not be "responsible" for the 527 groups that promote him or for the DNC running ads in his favor essentially making a mockery of public financing.

Well, thats what happens when you believe in modern day Messiahs.

posted by: NS on 02.15.08 at 08:47 AM [permalink]

No, Obama won't. Don't forget that the Dems had a huge money advantage in 2004 because George Soros illegally put over $100m into the Kerry campaign (for which his outlets received the largest fine in history by the FEC). If it looks like Obama has a decent chance, expect Soros to again give the Dems a huge boost in their coffers (and pay another FEC fine for his efforts), and they could easily outraise the Republicans by a 2 to 1 or 3 to 1 margin.

posted by: Brian D on 02.15.08 at 08:47 AM [permalink]

One option would be to accept the limit imposed by public financing while not actually formally opting in and taking matching funds (i.e. raising the limit entirely by himself). This would allow him to opt out in the event that Republicans began to heavily rely on 527s. So, the deal would be BO would abide by the limit as long as McCain agreed not to have 527s making his case for him.

posted by: Tom on 02.15.08 at 08:47 AM [permalink]

McCain-Feingold is a sore point with professional conservatives, whose importance in this campaign is greatest in its early stages and least after each party has chosen its nominee and has to appeal to the national electorate. It did what it was supposed to -- prevent corporations and unions from evading the laws limiting contributions to candidates for federal office by dumping money into the parties -- and in a race against Obama, McCain is likely to brag about it, not hide it under the carpet.

So sure, if I'm McCain I make this challenge. If I'm Obama I don't know if I accept it. The Democratic candidate in this race is going to want to run against George Bush, and to reinforce the public's tendency to think of Bush whenever they see McCain. A campaign in which both candidates restrict their spending probably means a campaign with more joint appearances, which means more opportunities for the public to see only a choice between Obama and McCain.

I don't necessarily think Obama loses that kind of race; in fact, as I've written elsewhere I think it's extremely unlikely that McCain can win no matter who the Democrats nominate. I just think maintaining some distance between Obama and McCain is the best way for Obama to stay on his message that the Republicans are all about Bush. and McCain only incidentally, rather than the other way around.

In Obama's place (or Sen. Clinton's if she is the one the Democrats nominate) I hang an incumbent Republican President with 30% approval ratings around a Republican Presidential candidate every chance I get.

posted by: Zathras on 02.15.08 at 08:47 AM [permalink]

Of course Obama should not accept. The lift from doing so would be momentary and confined to a small set of wonkish voters who care about the intricacies of public financing, whereas the harm would constrain Obama through the entire election season.

posted by: Tom T. on 02.15.08 at 08:47 AM [permalink]

Not a chance. Obama is not that naive.

The Republican 527's will negate any hard money advantage the Democrats have, so he won't unilaterally disarm.

Obama needs to press every advantage to the absolute hilt. Put a wooden stake through McCain and depress the Republican turnout even more so that he'll have coattails in the general.

It's purely theater at this point, no incremental voter will accrue to any candidate based on this decision. However, millions of voters could be persuaded by a poor response to the next swiftboat attack by the Republicans.

Raise and spend the money wisely, with no arbitrary limits considered or imposed.

posted by: lone wolf on 02.15.08 at 08:47 AM [permalink]

What is wrong in Sen. Obama saying that he will not comment about public financing until he knows for sure that he is the nominee and the other party is ready to accept the limit too? When he made the commitment originally, it was contingent on other party to accept as well.

Then why Sen. McCain’s campaign is going berserk and saying that Obama campaign is reneging their commitment? Is it not fair to wait until we cross that bridge and then decide about that? Or is the expectation from these competing candidates is that Obama should simply implode his roaring campaign by accepting financial limits while others rake in the money?

The height of shamelessness is by the Clinton campaign. All along they played the politics of ‘fund raiser’; raised millions via special interests; never committed for public financing; even now they will not talk about that – but want to criticize Obama campaign because it is not accepting public financing now. It seems Clinton campaign does even know how to be truthful at minimum degree. We all know that Clinton is under pressure to win elections. But that does not mean she could throw any ‘mud’ on competitor with the hope that something will stick? Here we have Bill Clinton visiting Silicon Valley shamelessly wandering California with a begging bowl, but they want Obama campaign to criticize for not accepting public finance while Clinton campaign itself shouting that Dem nomination process is not done? Should we say that ‘sure Obama campaign will commit for public financing provided McCain does’ if Clinton quits the nomination race? It seems Clintons have totally given up ‘logic’ to wind and want to wage totally gutter and shrill election campaign. Shame on Clintons.

It was also presumptuous of Washington Post to write editorial about this when the issue is still in future and the basic nomination fight is not done. No wonder public thinks these newspapers are irresponsible – writing editorials about the issue which is not relevant while ignoring many other important issues.

posted by: Umesh Patil on 02.15.08 at 08:47 AM [permalink]

John McCain is going berserk because he was the one Presidential candidate who took up on Obama's offer.

The "deal" was made in March 2007 - all money that was privately raised will be returned provided both the candidates accepted public financing. Read the entire NYT article.

Also, the point that Obama prematurely commits himself to public financing before he wins the nomination is a dodge at best. If he does not win the nomination, the deal obviously does not exist. How ever it should not be too difficult for Obama to agree that he will take public financing SHOULD he win the nomination. In fact this is exactly what he did one year back.

He is basically backing away from the pledge because he now knows that there is a large amount of financial support for his candidacy and that he can easily outraise 85 Million Dollars if he did not go for public financing. It would be foolish of him to be content with 85 Million when he knows that he can outraise that amount.

Basically it looks like Obama made a pledge that no GOP candidate would agree to go for public financing and even if some one did, he probably would nt be the nominee. It looks like he was wrong on both counts.

As far as Clinton goes, she is just plain desperate and is looking for any thing to attack Obama.

posted by: NS on 02.15.08 at 08:47 AM [permalink]

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