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Obama Opts Out Of Public Financing

leah's picture

I'm jumping on this announcement by candidate Obama, because I hope to subvert the impulses of some of my fellow Fellows and some of our readers to make of this moment a chance to accuse Barack Obama of being a liar, breaking a promise, not really being about reform, undermining efforts to reform our increasingly broken system of elections, and other ways not to like Obama that I'm not clever enough to even think of.

You don't need to go there; the VRWC is way ahead of you. As Roy notes, there is high comedy to be had in the deep disappointment of the McCain campaign, the Republican Party, and their right-winger supporters, most of whom have bellowed long and hard against any sort of limitations on the financing of political campaigns. Of course that was when they were the ones rolling in money.

Yes, I know, McCain has been an advocate, of sorts, and a sponsor, of sorts, of campaign finance reform, but when Obama states, as he does in the video message in which he announced his decision, that the entire system, including the so-called reforms of it, by which we finance our elections is "broken," he's right.

Here is as much of what Obama says on the video that I could get off the story as it appears in the NYTimes and Reuters:


"We've made the decision not to participate in the public financing system for the general election," Obama said in a video statement e-mailed to reporters.

Obama said the decision meant his campaign would be forgoing more than $80 million in public funds during the final months of this election. But the move allows him to raise as much private money as he can.

"It's not an easy decision, and especially because I support a robust system of public financing of elections," he said. "


"The public financing of presidential elections as it exists today is broken, and we face opponents who’ve become masters at gaming this broken system,” he said. “John McCain’s campaign and the Republican National Committee are fueled by contributions from Washington lobbyists and special interest PACs. And we’ve already seen that he’s not going to stop the smears and attacks from his allies running so-called 527 groups, who will spend millions and millions of dollars in unlimited donations."

Obama said his rival McCain's campaign and the Republican National Committee were fueled by contributions from Washington lobbyists and special interest groups that can make unlimited donations.

"From the very beginning of this campaign, I have asked my supporters to avoid that kind of unregulated activity and join us in building a new kind of politics -- and you have," he said.

"Instead of forcing us to rely on millions from Washington lobbyists and special interest (groups), you've fueled this campaign with donations of $5, $10, $20, whatever you can afford," he said.

"And because you did, we've built a grassroots movement of over 1.5 million Americans."

Yes, Obama is going to get criticism from the press for having broken a pledge, and McCain and Republicans will pretend to be aghast, despite the fact that McCain has already pledged to appoint the kind of Federal Judges who will continue to make it impossible to squeeze the outrageous costs we've allowed to become attached to our elections out of the system, and despite the fact that the entire right-wing has never met a campaign finance reform they could even pretend to like.

I think Obama did exactly the right thing in refusing to be limited in his ability to campaign by McCain's inability to raise the kind of money to which Republicans usually have access. It means that Obama will be able to context all fifty states; it means being able to run a massive voter registration campaign, and a just as big GOTV campaign. It means he'll have the money to answer the kind of smear ads the 527's have already started airing. And all of that is good for the liberal/progressive movement, even those aspects of it that are taking place outside of the electoral politics.

Lastly, dear readers, especially those of you who continue to admire Hillary Clinton, among whom I count myself, ask yourself if Hillary was now our candidate, and if, based on the kind of money she eventually was able to raise through the internet, she was looking at the kind of cash-flow Obama is, whether or not she wouldn't do exactly what he is doing. I know what I think.

No votes yet


Submitted by lambert on

... Hillary had a good deal of money banked for the general. $16 million back in February.

[Various updates]

I'd be interested to know what's more broken now than was broken back when Obama made the pledge, but presumably something must have been, or breaking the pledge would not have been necessary; no doubt the Authoritative Timeline of Contemporary Events on Obama's website will tell me what I need to know. Or perhaps the Guide to the Perplexed.

Of course, it would be funny to go see the VRWC finally get something right, completely instrumental though they are -- unlike us, of course -- but somehow, I don't think it's worth it.


[x] Very tepidly voting for Obama [ ] ?????. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

BDBlue's picture
Submitted by BDBlue on

The sure sign you're being condescended to, IMO. My critical faculties remain intact, thanks for the concern.

Obama was always going to do this. Why he didn't do it while Clinton was in the race so that the press would give him a pass, I'm not sure. But the only thing surprising is that he waited this long.

leah's picture
Submitted by leah on

...used often on blogs today. I doubt that in either century, then and now, it is "the sure sign you're being condescended to, nor do I think that there is anything about that post that suggests condescension.

Surely, BDBlue, you wouldn't want to claim that plenty of strong criticism against Obama continues to be expressed on this blog, and just as surely, I would hope, you are not suggesting that no one is allowed to talk about that hostility, to argue with it, even, without being dismissed as being condescending, which would be, in and of itself, rather condescending, would it not?

jackyt's picture
Submitted by jackyt on

Were you "Miss Manners" in a previous incarnation?

Corner Stone's picture
Submitted by Corner Stone on

Why this blog was ever subtitled "Boldly Shrill". It seems some of the Fellows spend more of their time placating or pre-empting spirited discussion.
Is it irony, or an inside joke?

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

Facts out of synch with the majority view of the leftysphere are bad facts.

We're shrill, but we're not that shrill.

Let no mellow be harshed!

Submitted by Paul_Lukasiak on

He promised to vigorously pursue public financing... and McCain is willing to go the public financing route.

Obama decided to forego public financing for one reason only --- he thinks he can raise more money than McCain. He made completely DISHONEST demands (no 527 expenditures -- knowing full well that neither candidate can control 527 spending), and he knew that 527s would be a factor when he made his promose.

Oh, and in typical Oborg fashion, we get the "Clinton would have been just as bad" crap. Except for one thing -- Clinton never promised that she would do everything in her power to go the public financing route. But the Oborg can't help themselves... it doesn't matter WHAT the subject is, even now that the primary is over, Clinton Derangement Syndrome is inescapeable...

Oh, and let me pre-empt any idiots who want to try and talk about McCain's "promise" to use public financing when he applied for a loan...

that "promise" was actually his collateral -- basically, it was like putting up your house for collateral on a loan. As long as you can pay off the loan from other income, you don't have to sell your house. McCain didn't have to fulfill his "collateral" promise, because he didn't need to.

amberglow's picture
Submitted by amberglow on

this is disgusting--and mentioning 527s is just another distraction and totally irrelevant to campaign finance reform.

and i bet Ken Starr received a phone call today telling him to get ready for 2009-12.

BDBlue's picture
Submitted by BDBlue on

Dear Readers is not inherently condescending, it was just being employed in the middle of a condescending post.

And, to knock down your straw man, I have never denied criticism of Obama continues to be expressed on this blog nor do I suggest that no one is allowed to talk about the hostility. And to take it a step further, I don't argue that people should not or could not argue with those or disagree with those or ignore those who express such hostility. I do not believe that is stated anywhere in my post or in any comment I have ever written. Quite the contrary, I love a good debate and I'm all for hearing more for why Obama would be a good choice for President and deserves my vote.

My post was a complaint about tone and what I read as the implied suggestion that those of us criticizing Obama need your help with our critical thinking, lest we jump on the VRWC bandwagon. It takes an issue on which there hadn't been much recent (or any) criticism of Obama on this blog (unless I missed something, but since you didn't cite it, I'm going to say I did not). Presumes there will be criticism and that it will be along the same lines as the criticism being handed out by the VRWC, thus discrediting it before it even occurs without knowing what it even is or why. Then explains why it would be wrong to criticize something (which, of course, hadn't been criticized). Which, whether intentional or not, has the effect of suggesting that those who criticize Obama on other subjects are doing so because we lack the critical thinking you so ably employ in this post.

That is my objection to the post.

The basic underlying point - Obama's refusal to take public financing is a smart move is one that I agree with. I remain baffled why he felt the need to pretend otherwise, but in the big scheme of things I can't say I care.

Submitted by Paul_Lukasiak on

The basic underlying point - Obama’s refusal to take public financing is a smart move is one that I agree with.

Its a smart move for Obama to opt out of public financing...

except that it exposes him once again as they lying hypocrite that he is.

All the Oborg are jumping all over themselves, trying to find ways to justify this move -- ranging from the traditional Oborgian "Obama's right, the system is broken" (as if the system wasn't broken when Obama made his promise....) to the neo-Oborgian "well, we always knew that Obama was politician" (when, of course, they've spent the last six months trashing Hillary Clinton because she's such a typical politician, and Obama was something 'special' and 'different'.)

This really is classic cult-like behavior -- the figure of adoration can do no wrong, and any excuse (including the "well, we never believed that party anyway" gambit) is used to justify continued adoration...

Submitted by Paul_Lukasiak on

“…his campaign — never good at setting expectations — shouldn’t have promised something that Obama is apparently incapable of delivering.”

um, that was his whole campaign. In other words, here is Obama's campaign speech/themes without the false promises...

:Hi I'm Barack Obama

I'm not Hillary Clinton

Send Money.

Thank you."

Submitted by lambert on

As the old Firesign Theatre headline had it.

Obama was always going to turn down public money; it's a total non-story. I had no impulse to post on this non-story to subvert in the first place.

As I keep saying, I'm tepidly voting for Obama because he's not part of the Village faction that tortures animals and glorifies the torture of humans. It's a pretty low baseline, but there we are. I don't think that makes me part of the Party any more; quite the reverse.

Therefore, though others are, of course, free to post horse-race material -- the more linky goodness and analysis the better, especially where it sets the record straight -- the whole topic bores me to tears.

[x] Very tepidly voting for Obama [ ] ?????. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

I’m jumping on this announcement by candidate Obama, because I hope to subvert the impulses of some of my fellow Fellows and some of our readers to make of this moment a chance to accuse Barack Obama of being a liar, breaking a promise, not really being about reform, undermining efforts to reform our increasingly broken system of elections, and other ways not to like Obama that I’m not clever enough to even think of.

You're promising to "subvert" (wow, thanks!) our impulses ('cause we're lizard brains, I guess) to [list of unflattering facts and interpretations that all sound rather like the truth]. Then, your apparent trump card is that the VRWC noticed [list of unflattering facts and interpretations that all sound rather like the truth].

So, Obama has his pants down on this issue, and we're preemptively a bunch of jerks because we might notice that and comment on it. Rather than let it come to that, you shame us for our likelihood of noticing and commenting on [list of unflattering facts and interpretations that all sound rather like the truth].

A less truthiness-enabling way to have said this would be something like this:

"I see that Obama has retracted his pledge to use public financing. Personally, I think it was overzealous, naive idealism for him to have promised it, and in view of the expensive primary campaign and an increasingly realistic sense of what it will take to beat the corporate institution that is the GOP (and clean-elections cheater John McCain in particular), he's making what I think is the right decision. The rightwing is already making hay with this, so perhaps we can leave the bashing about it to them."

People might have disagreed with your conclusions, but they wouldn't have felt condescended to. Or "subverted." Just my two cents.

OxyCon's picture
Submitted by OxyCon on

All the Oborg are jumping all over themselves, trying to find ways to justify this move...

They are quite adept at it, too. A bunch of cultists all tied up in knots.

The way Obama shat all over President and Senator Clinton, Karma has a big surprise in store for him yet. If Obama thinks the Clintons are toxic, wait until the Repubs are finished with him and his wife. "Obama" will be a new swear word. He's a target rich environment for smear campaigns, with all the undesirable people he is comfortable spending decades around, and for some of his radical beliefs.

Submitted by Paul_Lukasiak on

Obama isn't taking money from lobbyists...uh, make that federal lobbyists...uh, and make sure that just means people who are registered as "lobbyists", rather than "consultants" for the lobbying firms, or lawyers, associated with the lobbying firms...

I mean, who needs lobbyinsts anyway, when CEOs can spend 28.5K to put the squeeze on Obama in person?

zuzu's picture
Submitted by zuzu on

Yes, Obama is going to get criticism from the press for having broken a pledge

That's a rather airy dismissal of a broken pledge, considering all the frothing at the mouths the Oborg did about Hillary's alleged broken pledge on Florida and Michigan.

Which she did *not* break, and which didn't have anything to do with counting the delegates, for the millionth time.

Submitted by jawbone on

NewsHour analysts agreed that this means the end of campaign finance reform and probably of public financing of the presidential general election.

This was a reform which every general election major party candidate accepted since its first year, 1976. Obama has accomplished Change, all right--killed public financing. And can claim another first: First major prez candidate to not use public financing since it became law.

The woman from Politico on NewsHour said, and others seemed to agree, than campaign finance reform will not happen until the next big election finance scandal (we have public financing bcz of Nixon's bags of money). They said that while public financing needed some tweaks and changes, nothing will be done in the near term--and most likely McCain will be the last presidential candidate to use public financing.

Let the money wars begin!

As someone who lived through Watergate, watched every hearing I possibly could, had a TV brought into the social studies classes so the 7th and 8th graders could watch history being made, I feel sad that this has been a reform which lasted barely a third of a century.

Glenn Reynolds speaking on WNYC this morning is very happy that Obama has slipped the shiv into campaign finance reform. He wants no limits to donations, but with disclosure (at some point in time), bcz "money talks" and we shouldn't shut it up in any way. Whoohoooo!

And all those Dems who have preached public financing? Not needed now, per some of them. So, it's all good. Unlimited money? Who could argue with that?

This has been a downer day for me. Nite all.

Sarah's picture
Submitted by Sarah on

I live in Texas.
I'll vote straight-ticket D, for the sake of the downballot races.
But I'll say it again.
McCain or Obama, doesn't matter. It's gonna be another W.
It's gonna SUCK.

We can admit that we're killers ... but we're not going to kill today. That's all it takes! Knowing that we're not going to kill today! ~ Captain James T. Kirk, Stardate 3193.0

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

What are *your* biggest beefs with BHO?

From this comment, I see your skepticism about what he'll accomplish. Are there things he's done that have him on your bad side?

My biggest gripes include:

* The embrace and propagation of truthiness / religiosity (hopey changey unity hogwash, grandstanding about religion, and playing the messiah himself)
*Squandering good will toward Democrats and the opportunity to lead, via pathetic and untimely rehashing of the partisanship-problem myth
* The leveraging of evil (trumped up racism, Clinton hate, misogyny, the bullshit media in general)
* Gaming the system

BoGardiner's picture
Submitted by BoGardiner on

I am as discouraged by Obama's cynical trashing of election finance reform as anything that's happened in this campaign. Maybe more.

You ask that we consider "if Hillary was now our candidate... whether or not she wouldn’t do exactly what he is doing. I know what I think."

Yes, we know what you think. What I think is a) you have provided absolutely no evidence or precedent for this charge against Hillary, and b) you're dead wrong.

amberglow's picture
Submitted by amberglow on

WaPO-- - "...for most of his campaign, big donors have been Obama's mainstay. ... Meanwhile, big-ticket fundraising among the very wealthiest is surging into record territory. Even as he touts his base of small donors, Obama has continued to woo large contributors at events costing thousands of dollars per plate, as has McCain. This suggests that, by themselves, small donations do not offer a real corrective to the pay-to-play system. ...

The idea that small donors will somehow reinvigorate electoral democracy, without the trouble of fundamentally reforming our campaign finance laws, is attractive but not yet reality. For candidates to be equally responsive to all their constituents and to open to ordinary voters the same kind of influence and access now afforded a wealthy minority, the only realistic option is to increase the amount of money we allocate to the public campaign finance system. In fact, the small-donor illusion may even be functioning as a fig leaf, averting our gaze from the continued and intensifying stranglehold that big donors have on our democracy."

Submitted by lambert on

Good link, Aeryl.

[x] Very tepidly voting for Obama [ ] ?????. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

Aeryl's picture
Submitted by Aeryl on

But, that's not me.

Bill Clinton for First Dude!!!

Submitted by lambert on

I have you filed, obviously, under the same letter in the alphabet...

[x] Very tepidly voting for Obama [ ] ?????. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

leah's picture
Submitted by leah on

...even though I'm one of the four people who founded it.

That's okay. We are not authoritarians here.

As to my use of the word "subvert," my focus was not on subverting a commitment to campaign finance reform, which, in its present state is little more than a bad joke. You may not agree with that assessment, but the point of that reform was to limit the huge role that money plays in our elections, which makes running for office one of the our culture's most expensive activities, and yet, all such reforms have failed to stem the flow of money which makes every election even more expensive than the one before it.

I did hope to subvert what I see as an unthinking impulse on the part of many posters and readers at Corrente to define every news story in terms of what bad things it says about Obama. I would allow that this particular one concerned him directly, even so, it did seem to me that it might be productive to include a different point of view than what I correctly, as it turns out, expected to be the reaction.

BDBlue, from my point of view, you come perilously close to defining all points of view with which you disagree as being some how insulting, or otherwise or an attempt to limit discussion, or just generally being not kosher.

I wasn't saying that Obama gets a pass because Clinton is just as bad, or would be. In fact, during the Clinton presidential years, the Clintons and the Democratic Party were constantly accused of scandalous fund-raising activities, while the Republicans, who consistently out-raised Democrats in those years, were given a free pass, despite the fact that there was ample evidence of illegal bundling, not to mention money laundering, so that individual congressional campaigns could exceed spending limits.

Bill Clinton believed in electoral finance reform, but, as he repeated endlessly, he was not about to disarm unilaterally, which is why his fund-raisers looked for new sources of contributions, hence, Al Gore at that Buddhist Temple, which, BTW, wasn't a real scandal at all, but ask yourselves how many Americans know that. The aura of scandal that Republicans successfully hang on Clinton and the Democratic Party helped to defeat Gore, or at least it helped Bush to get close enough to steal the election.

The investigation into the Clinton fund-raising by the Thompson committee was a total sham, and is an example of how and why this Republican impulse to use the levers of government for purely partisan electoral advantage didn't start with Geroge W. Bush. (Ditto, the Clinton impeachment). Even so, how many lefty blogs for Obama trotted out all the old Republican propaganda about Clinton fund-raising scandals? In fact, Senator Clinton's fund-raising was from many of the same sources that the Clintons used during his presidency. That doesn't meant she did anything illegal, but that kind of fund-raising does depend on lobbyists, big money contributions, and bundling. Obama tapped similar sources, although he did build on the Dean movement's experience with raising money on the internet, and made more room for that than did Clinton, initially. Clearly, he surprised, perhaps even shocked, himself by the totals he racked up.

Yes, of course, he is opting out of public finance because it gives him an advantage. McCain is opting in for only one reason; he can't raise the kind of money Obama can. I don't contest that. I do contest the notion that McCain is being principled; he has already violated both the spirit and the letter of some of his own legislation, and he'll basically get a pass for that.

Frankly, I have always been less than impressed by Common Cause. So, I'm not chagrined by their complaints, but then I agree with Obama; our system of financing our campaigns is totally broken, despite the hard-won reforms that were supposed to change it.

The only thing that is going to change it is total public financing of elections, and the Supreme Court has put a big impediment to achieving spending limits even in such a system by defining money as speech.

For me, the much more important reform of elections we need to focus on is the twin issues of access to voting and transparency of the counting of votes. No more stolen elections.

As to my thoughts that Clinton would do the same as Obama, given the circumstances, my evidence is the determination of both Clintons to make Democrats competitive with Republicans in the area of fund raising, and the fact that she is actively urging her own fund raisers to work with Obama's in service to get him and a healthy majority Democratic majority elected to both houses of congress.

I'm no more critical of Hillary for being realistic about what it takes to win in a broken system than I am of Obama.

Submitted by lambert on

... was obvious at the time the promise was made, and nothing material, apparently, changed between then and now.

Of course, I never believed Obama's promise in the first place -- Motherhood, apple pie, and all that -- so it doesn't bother me that he broke it. That's why, for me, there's no story here. Is that "negative"? YMMV.

Now, promises on Social Security, on the other hand, I take seriously.

[x] Very tepidly voting for Obama [ ] ?????. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

I doubt I would have posted anything about this topic had you not brought it up.

The preemption and your "subvert" framing condemn active Obama skeptic posters in the manner of the pre-cogs in "Minority Report."

I talked to Lambert, and he wasn't particularly exercised about this change of plans either. Might a guest poster have brought it up? Possibly. But perhaps you might have expected your fellow Fellows who have tepidly endorsed Obama to have not made any more hay out of it than it deserved, which might be as little as none at all, or perhaps interestingly contextualized relative to how Hillary was perceived in the campaign, etc. As it stands, we were found guilty before doing anything.