he first signs of trouble were buried deep within gigantic electronic files stored far from the bright lights and bustle of the presidential campaign.
In a freshly repainted government office on E Street in downtown Washington, a sharp-eyed analyst at the Federal Election Commission (FEC) noticed something was wrong among the tens of thousands of electronic pages of the latest campaign finance report submitted by Barack Obama’s campaign.
Someone named Good Will from Austin, Texas, had donated to the Obama campaign hundreds of times. Most of the donations were for just $25. But in total, they amounted to more than $17,000, far exceeding the $4,600 limit for individual contributors. Moreover, Mr. Good Will listed his employer as “Loving” and his profession as “You.” Clearly, Good Will wasn’t real.
There, in a nine-story stone building next door to D.C.’s perpetually thrumming Hard Rock Cafe, an FEC employee in the Reports Analysis Division noted the discrepancy. The agency issued a letter to the Obama campaign requesting additional information on Mr. Good Will.
It was June 25, 2008. The capital was cool and drizzly. Hillary Clinton had pulled the plug on her campaign just three weeks earlier; the razzle-dazzle of the Democratic convention that would serve as Obama’s party coronation was still two months away.
The FEC already had questioned the Obama campaign about curious donations and suspiciously large, overseas purchases of pro-Obama merchandise as far back as April. With this latest bland request for explanation, FEC officials pulled another thread in the messy fabric of Obama’s massive fundraising apparatus.
A clear picture was emerging. The Democrat had every intention of amassing more campaign cash than any candidate in history in an unapologetic effort to buy victory on Election Day.
As part of that pursuit, the campaign would ignore, and occasionally encourage, obvious attempts to circumvent campaign finance laws by masking identities, dollar amounts, and countries of origin for an estimated 2.5 million donors.
A subsequent month-long investigation by Newsmax exposed even more discrepancies riddling Obama’s campaign ledgers.
Still, the ruses worked. The cost of the White House? Just shy of $670 million in cash solicited by any means possible. Obama spent $613 million of that before Election Day to help capture 63.7 million votes, or around $10 per voter.
“Nobody could have imagined numbers like this or participation like this,” fundraiser Alan Solomont told Bloomberg.com.
The way Barack Obama managed the finances of his campaign remains the subject of controversy and investigation. The conservative Heritage Foundation has taken the first step in what could be an in-depth investigation of Obama’s fundraising efforts, demanding that the FEC audit the Obama campaign.
The foundation issued a release the day after the election: “No doubt there is great cause to be concerned about Obama’s fundraising effort.”
The foundation also pointed to a test by the independent National Journal to determine the veracity of allegations that Obama’s online fundraising system was designed to facilitate fraud.
Despite such challenges, it’s clear that Obama’s successful bid for the White House has forever changed the way national elections will be funded. For good or ill.
|Where Obama’s Money
|University of California
|Securities and Investments
*Totals reflect amount given by the organization’s PAC, officials, and employees, not the organization itself.
SOURCE: Center for Responsive Politics
Obama’s fundraising “revolutionized the way presidential campaigns are financed and may kill the Watergate-era system of providing public money for the general election,” Bloomberg observed. All told, Obama’s estimated $668 million is more than twice what Democrat John Kerry raised in 2004, and more than twice what George W. Bush and Al Gore combined brought in during the 2000 presidential campaign.
Obama’s fundraising engine was in high gear from the very start, bringing in $24.8 million for the primary during the first three months of 2007, compared with $19.1 million for Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
The Obama campaign invested more than $2 million in Internet infrastructure in early 2007, choosing top-of-the-line hardware and software. Some of Obama’s New Media leaders, such as Joe Rospars, came from Howard Dean’s campaign.
By the end of 2007, Obama had raised $102 million. He won the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3, 2008, and raised another $36 million that month.
Almost half of Obama’s money came from people donating $200 or less, compared with 34 percent for McCain, Bloomberg reported.
On two occasions, Obama promised to work with McCain on an agreement to accept public financing. McCain did accept public financing, limiting his ability to raise private donations, but Obama reneged in June, enabling him to raise unlimited amounts from donors.
The press by and large did not hold Obama accountable. But McCain criticized him sharply, saying: “Twice he looked the American people in the eye and said he would sit down with me before he abandoned public financing. He didn’t mean a word of it.”
Free to raise unlimited funds, Obama’s campaign brought in at least $210 million in September and October, more than doubling the amount available to McCain.
Obama’s huge edge in finances enabled him to devote nearly three times as much as McCain to advertising, with the Democrat spending $21.5 million to McCain’s $7.5 million from Oct. 21 to Oct. 28 as Election Day neared.
On the day before the election, Obama ran 3,410 ads in seven competitive states, while McCain ran only 1,900. Obama also far outspent McCain on staff salaries, helping him to open field offices and fund a get-out-the-vote effort.
The impact is obvious now. Obama beat McCain handily in a strategic battle for electoral votes, the kind of win that has all of the hallmarks of targeted advertising and expensive, high-touch voter outreach efforts in places such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.
It happened largely because the Internet had disrupted the way political campaigns are funded the same way the Web uprooted many traditional businesses. Except to acknowledge this new paradigm, that might be where the story ends, if not for the lingering questions about exactly how Obama managed to raise so much cash and whether he broke the law to do it.
The Generosity of Bart Simpson and Doodad Pro
Newsmax began its own investigation of the Obama campaign in early September. By that time, the Democratic presidential candidate had raised $426.9 million, most from small donors whose names the campaign wouldn’t disclose.
In addition to concerns that donors were defrauding the system to donate more than allowed, there were indications that millions of dollars also were coming from outside the U.S., another violation of campaign finance law.
Federal law does not require campaigns to identify donors who give less than $200 during the election cycle. However, it does require that campaigns calculate running totals for each donor and report them when they go beyond the $200 mark. The first red flag was the enormous number of Obama donors who never broke the $200 threshold.
“Contributions that come under $200 aggregated per person are not listed,” said Bob Biersack, a spokesman for the FEC. “They don’t appear anywhere, so there’s no way of knowing who they are.”
By Sept. 29, the FEC breakdown of the Obama campaign identified a staggering $222.7 million as coming from contributions of $200 or less. Only $39.6 million of that amount came from donors the Obama campaign has identified. That made it the largest pool of unidentified money that ever has flooded into the U.S. election system, before or after the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reforms of 2002.
Massie Ritsch, a spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics, tells Newsmax that there was skepticism about all the unreported money, especially in the Obama campaign coffers. “We and seven other watchdog groups asked both campaigns for more information on small donors,” he says. “The Obama campaign never responded,” whereas the McCain campaign “makes all its donor information, including the small donors, available online.”
The rise of the Internet as a campaign funding tool raised new questions about the adequacy of FEC requirements on disclosure. In pre-Internet fundraising, almost all political donations, even small ones, were made by bank check, leaving a paper trail and limiting the amount of fraud.
But credit cards used to make donations on the Internet have allowed far more abuse.
|keep the change Obama’s Web site fundraising rewrote the record books.
“While FEC practice is to do a post-election review of all presidential campaigns, given their sluggish metabolism, results can take three or four years,” says Ken Boehm, the chairman of the conservative National Legal and Policy Center, a think tank in Washington, D.C.
When FEC auditors questioned the authenticity of Good Will from Austin, Texas, they also issued a request to the Obama campaign to “re-designate” contributions in excess of the finance limits.
Under campaign finance laws, an individual can donate $2,300 to a candidate for federal office in both the primary and the general election, for a total of $4,600. If a donor has topped the limit in the primary, the campaign can re-designate additional contributions to the general election on its books.
But if the candidate accepts public financing — as McCain did — then he is barred from accepting donations for the general election, so that individual donors are limited to just $2,300 each. Busting this limit gave Obama a distinct advantage in the money race.
In response to the FEC request in July, campaign records that Newsmax reviewed show that 330 contributions from Mr. Good Will were credited back to a credit card. But by Sept. 20, Good Will’s contributions stood at $8,950 — still well over the $4,600 limit. The Obama campaign no doubt noticed these contributions, since its Sept. 20 report specified that Good Will’s total contributions had reached $9,375, in clear violation of the law.
Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt told Newsmax that the campaign would return the donations but could not guarantee a refund would be made before Election Day.
|Obama’s Campaign Would Be Billion-Dollar Marketing Business
|Tower of triumph If the Obama campaign were a marketing company it would be valued in excess of $1 billion.
— Dan Weil
Much like Good Will, a donor identified as “Pro, Doodad,” from “Nando, NY,” gave $19,500 in 786 separate donations, most of them for $25. For most of these donations, Mr. Doodad Pro creatively listed his employer as “Loving” and his profession as “You,” just as Good Will had done.
The FEC also noticed Doodad Pro and issued another request to the Obama camp to clear up the discrepancy. The records indicate that Doodad Pro engaged in a flurry of giving, including 14 separate donations of $25 each on July 7. Obama officials claim that they refunded $8,425 to the credit card listed with the Doodad Pro donations. That still left a net total of $11,075 from the obviously fake donor.
LaBolt again pledged that the questionable contributions would be returned but gave no date. And the bogus contributions continued to roll in. Bart Simpson, Family Guy, Daffy Duck, King Kong: All contributed to Obama in September and October with no attempt to screen them out.
The fake donors could have been caught. Even rudimentary online merchant security procedures would have stopped donors from using a name or address that didn’t match the credit-card account. The Obama campaign had turned off most of those safety features on its Web site, industry analysts and a confidential informant told Newsmax.
That facilitated scenarios like the one on Oct. 14, when an individual using the name “O.J. Simpson” participated in an Obama small-donor fundraising drive, and made a $5 donation through the Web site. Giving a Los Angeles address, he listed his employer as the “State of Nevada” and his occupation as “convict.” The donor used a disposable “gift” card to make the donation. The Obama campaign sent O.J. a thank-you note confirming his contribution.
|The GOP’s Next Ronald Reagan?
|She had neither the cash nor the political infrastructure of her opponents, yet Sarah Palin became an overnight sensation. Her star power assures she’s got a future in the national conversation.
— Tom Squitieri
Four minutes earlier, an individual using the name “Raela Odinga” also made a $5 contribution, using the same gift card. The real Raela Odinga became prime minister of Kenya in April and has claimed to be a cousin of Obama’s through a maternal uncle. Obama donor “Raela Odinga” listed his address as “2007 Stolen Election Passage” in “Nairobi, KY.” This donation raised no alarm bells in Obama’s campaign.
A few minutes earlier, “Daffy Duck” gave $5 to the Obama matching campaign, listing his address as “124 Wacky Way, Beverly Hills, Calif.”
But just as with Odinga’s address, the “Wacky Way” address failed to raise any alarm bells or security traps on the Obama campaign Web site. Daffy Duck also used the same card as “O.J. Simpson” and “Raela Odinga.” Within the hour, three other new donors gave $5 to the Obama campaign:
- Bart Simpson of 333 Heavens Gate, Beverly Hills, Calif.
- Family Guy of 128 KilltheJews Alley, Gaza, Ga.
- King Kong of 549 Quinn Street, Capitol Heights, Md.
|disposable income Gift cards provide donors anonymity with no paper trail.
Newsmax learned of these contributions, which all were made on a single $25 Visa gift card (oddly, the total was $30), from a source that requested anonymity.
The source said he had been following the Newsmax investigation of Obama’s campaign finance irregularities “with great interest” and believed that some of the small donations were coming from gift cards — “you know, the type of disposable debit card you can pick up at Rite-Aid or just about any supermarket.”
“I tried it myself a few days ago,” he said. “I’m attaching for you proof of the contributions I made. This needs to be exposed.”
As Newsmax dug further into the Obama finance records, other spurious donors were discovered including “Dertey Poiiuy,” “Mong Kong,” “Fornari USA,” and “jkbkj Hbkjb.”
Five major companies process the bulk of all credit-card transactions in the United States, industry insiders tell Newsmax. The Obama campaign paid one of them, Chase Paymentech, just over $2 million to process its online transactions.
“We never discuss our relationships with any of our merchants, or customers we work with,” James Wester, a spokesman for Chase Paymentech, told Newsmax.
Newsmax asked whether Chase Paymentech had any security feature that would allow it to identify individuals making contributions using gift cards, but Wester declined to comment.
But other industry analysts, who asked not to be identified, told Newsmax that processors could track gift cards and debit cards “only by the numbers on the cards.”
“There are no names associated with these cards, so as a processor, you have no way of knowing who made the transaction,” one industry analyst said.
Anyone can go into a supermarket or a drugstore and buy a batch of these cards with cash, so there is no trace of the transaction, he added.
“It’s like walk-around money. They could be handing these things out as perks” to newly registered voters or others, “and there’s no way of tracing who is using them.”
Boehm tells Newsmax that contributions such as these clearly are illegal. “Making a contribution in the name of another person is the only part of federal election law that actually carries a criminal penalty,” says Boehm.
The Obama campaign paid Synetech Group Inc. of Charlottesville, Va., close to $2 million to compile all of the campaign contribution data from online contributors, bundlers, telemarketers, campaign events, and direct-mail campaigns, and process it for submission to the FEC. The sheer scope of the Obama fundraising juggernaut was “never contemplated by the FEC,” a company official told Newsmax, asking not to be quoted by name.
“It’s a lot of data. You’re talking 7 million contributions,” he said.
|trolling for dollars Obama campaign manager David Plouffe actively encouraged donors to send in contributions of $5 to $10.
The campaign itself is responsible for screening out fraudulent donors, not Synetech, he said. “I’ve been doing this for 30 years, and this is as well-managed as any [campaign]. It’s just huge. When it’s this big, any little thing becomes something more than it is.”
One of the biggest problems the campaign faces is fraud, he said. “It’s a colossal problem. They’re paying the campaign with other people’s money.” Individuals such as “Doodad Pro” and “Good Will” who made hundreds of contributions to the campaign in excess of the legal limits were not working for the campaign, but for themselves, he insisted.
“It’s all fraud. They do it for kicks. Or they’re testing the cards. The campaign doesn’t want this. Why on earth do they want to have all these messy little transactions? It’s a colossal pain.” However, the campaign itself solicited many of these “messy little transactions” in numerous e-mails to supporters.
For instance, just days before the convention in Denver, campaign manager David Plouffe sent an e-mail to supporters, asking them to “make a donation of $5 or more before midnight this Thursday, July 31st, and you could go backstage with Barack.”
After that, the campaign ran several small donation drives, claiming to “match” donations of $5, $10, or $25 with an equal amount for a previous donor.
Redistributing the Campaign Wealth
Even when the campaign was dealing with real people, it had difficulty keeping within the bounds of the laws that limit contributions to $4,600. Take the case of Lisa Handley, a stay-at-home mom from Portland, Ore., who gave $6,900 to the Obama campaign by credit card, because “I love Obama,” she says.
That put her $2,300 over the limit, a fact the FEC brought to the attention of the Obama campaign last summer.
The Obama campaign replied to the FEC notice, saying it had re-designated the excess money, which could mean that it had contributed it to a separate party committee or a joint fundraising committee, both of which have higher limits. But if that happened, it’s news to Handley.
“No one ever contacted me to return any of the money or told me they were re-designating some of the money,” she says.
Ronald J. Sharpe Jr., a retired teacher from Rockledge, Fla., appears in the Obama campaign reports as having given a whopping $13,800. The campaign reported that it returned $4,600 to him, making his net contribution of $9,200 still way over the legal limit. Worse yet, Sharpe says he doesn’t remember giving that much money to the campaign in the first place, nor does he recall anyone from the campaign ever contacting him to return money. “At the end, I was making monthly payments,” he tells Newsmax. The Obama campaign records do not show any such payments.
“Every campaign faces the challenge of screening and reviewing its contributions,” LaBolt says. “And we have been aggressive about taking every available step to make sure our contributions are appropriate, updating our systems when necessary.”
But many of the donors Newsmax canvassed said they had “never” been contacted by the Obama campaign or seen any refunds, even though their contributions went over the limit months earlier. Such donations, if not returned within 60 days, are a clear violation of federal campaign finance laws.
There may be gray areas in the law regarding identifying and tracking donations from American political supporters, but the rules are very clear when it comes to foreigners. No contributions allowed, other than from permanent residents holding green cards.
Still, the Obama funding machine decided to skirt the requirements here as well. So massive was the problem of non-Americans contributing to the Obama campaign the FEC built a separate database of potentially questionable overseas donations.
By the time the election rolled around, more than 16,500 contributions totaling $5.25 million made the FEC watch list.
More than 720 listed their “state” as “IR,” which the FEC often uses as an abbreviation for “information requested.” Another 74 listed their states as “UK,” for the United Kingdom. Almost 2,150 of the 16,500 overseas entries clearly were U.S. diplomats or military personnel, who listed an APO address. Their total contributions came to just $302,131. But others came from places as far afield as Abu Dhabi, Addis Ababa, Beijing, Fallujah, Florence, Italy, and a wide selection of towns and cities in France.
The Obama Web site allowed a contributor to select the country where he resided from the entire membership of the United Nations, including such places as North Korea and the Islamic Republic of Iran. Unlike McCain’s online donation page, the Obama site did not ask for proof of citizenship. With such lax vetting of foreign contributions, the Obama campaign may have indirectly contributed to questionable fundraising by foreigners.
Running it up
Money collected by presidential campaigns has skyrocketed during the past three decades, and this year’s total haul of $1 billion trumps them all.
Total shows amount raised by both candidates. Source: Federal Elections Commission
For example, in June, Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi gave a public speech praising Obama, claiming foreign nationals were donating to his campaign.
“All the people in the Arab and Islamic world and in Africa applauded this man,” the Libyan leader said. “They welcomed him and prayed for him and for his success, and they may have even been involved in legitimate contribution campaigns to enable him to win the American presidency.”
Gaddafi asserted that fundraising from Arab and African nations was “legitimate,” despite the U.S. federal laws banning such contributions.
In July and August, the head of the Nigeria’s stock market sponsored a series of pro-Obama fundraisers in Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city. The events attracted local Nigerian business owners. At one fundraising dinner, a table for eight went for $16,800. Nigerian press reports claimed sponsors raked in an estimated $900,000.
The fundraisers were intended to help Nigerians attend the August Democratic convention in Denver, sponsors said. But the Nigerian press expressed skepticism of that claim, and the Nigerian public anti-fraud commission is investigating the matter.
Just as Internet-based credit-card donations made it easier to perpetrate identity fraud domestically, they also greased the skids for foreign nationals to donate to American campaigns, especially if they claim their donation is less than $200.
LaBolt cited several measures that the campaign has adopted to “root out fraud,” including a requirement that anyone attending an Obama fundraising event overseas present a valid U.S. passport. Despite those efforts, a pair of Palestinian brothers, Hosam and Monir Edwan, contributed more than $31,300 to the Obama campaign in late 2007, ostensibly to buy Obama T-shirts, FEC records show.
The amounts attracted the attention of the FEC almost immediately. In an April 15, 2008, report that examined the Obama campaign’s year-end figures for 2007, the FEC asked that some of these contributions be reassigned. The Obama camp complied sluggishly, prompting a more detailed admonishment from the FEC on July 30.
The campaign sent the last of the money back only after Newsmax publicized this case in late September.
With more than half of the Obama campaign’s contributions coming from small donors who don’t need to be identified fully, it’s entirely likely that the Edwan brothers were not alone among foreign nationals backing the campaign.
When Newsmax pored over the campaign finance records, more than 65,000 Obama donations appeared to be conversions of foreign currency. According to our analysis of the Obama campaign data, foreign currency donations could range anywhere from $12.8 million to a stunning $63 million.
Not all of those were as obvious as donations made by folks listing Beirut or Gaza as their home.
When Newsmax contacted John Atkinson, an insurance agent in Burr Ridge, Ill., he refused to discuss his contributions, which totaled $8,724.26, before numerous refunds. Atkinson and many others gave in odd amounts: $188.67, $1,542.06, $876.09, $388.67, $282.20, $195.66, $118.15, and one rounded contribution of $2,300.
Sandra Daneshinia, a self-employed caregiver from Los Angeles, made 36 separate contributions, totaling $7,051.12, according to FEC records. Thirteen eventually were refunded.
What Would It Cost to Literally Buy the White House?
As for setting the price, Coldwell Banker conducted a detailed appraisal of the White House 10 years ago, which pegged the asking price at $64 million. Housevalues.com now says the White House would fetch around $106 million. With a 10-percent down payment and a 30-year, fixed-rate loan of 7 percent, that will set you back a little over $634,000 per month.
Also giving in odd amounts was Robert Porter, an accountant for the town of Oviedo, Fla. Porter gave $4,786.02 to the Obama campaign. In all, Newsmax found an astonishing 37,265 unique donors to the Obama campaign whose contributions were not rounded up to dollar amounts. That’s more than 10 percent of the total number of unique donors whose names the Obama campaign has disclosed.
Of those, 44,410 contributions came in unrounded amounts of less than $100. Another 15,269 contributions gave in unrounded amounts between $101 and $999, while 704 of the unrounded contributions were in amounts of more than $1,000.
Campaign finance experts find the frequent appearance of unrounded contributions suspicious, since contributors almost invariably give in whole dollar amounts.
“Of course this is odd. They are obviously converting from local currency to U.S. dollars,” says Boehm. “The overwhelming number of [donations] are [normally] in even dollar amounts. Anyone who doubts that can go to FEC.gov and look through the campaign contribution databases. You will not find many uneven numbers.”
Richard E. Hug, a veteran Republican fundraiser in Maryland who raised millions of dollars for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, and spearheaded the successful 2002 gubernatorial race for Bob Ehrlich that brought in a record $10 million, tells Newsmax that unrounded contributions are extremely unusual.
“I’ve never seen this in all my years of raising money for political candidates,” he said. “The first thing it suggests is foreign currency transactions — contributions from foreign donors, which is clearly illegal.”
Top Republican fundraiser Steve Gordon, who has raised $65 million for GOP candidates during the past 30 years, told Newsmax that such contributions in uneven amounts would be “pretty unusual.”
“You might have a rounding process if there was some kind of joint event, but since all appear to be on the Internet, it’s pretty unusual. At the very least, it would need to be explored.”
LaBolt attributed the uneven amounts to online Obama merchandise sales. “Contributions made to the Obama store often produce totals that are not exact dollar amounts,” he said.
But the campaign has never produced any accounting for proceeds from its online store.
The Republican National Committee filed a complaint against the Obama campaign for “accepting prohibited contributions from foreign nationals and excessive contributions from individuals.”
The complaint incorporated reporting from Newsmax and other news organizations.
“Their responses to FEC inquiries have often been inadequate and late,” RNC chief counsel Sean Cairncross says.
Change You’d Better Believe In
Despite the scrutiny and censure of the FEC, and formal complaints by the Heritage Foundation, Barack Obama won the White House convincingly and with precious little public scrutiny of where all the money came from in the nation’s best-funded campaign ever.
While the various political factions fight over the propriety of his fundraising, one thing is certain, Obama used his huge war chest to batter the GOP and win the Oval Office.
According to the Campaign Media Analysis Group (CMAG) in Virginia, Obama spent $250 million on television ads — $80 million more than John McCain and the Republican Party. Much of that money was spent in traditionally Republican states such as Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, and Virginia.
“At the end of the day, he was able to make this race all on Republican turf, and he was able to do it by applying leverage via these dollars,” Evan Tracey, president of CMAG, told the McClatchy news service.
Obama’s campaign bought large blocks of television time in Chicago, where stations reach into northwest Indiana. He did the same in Washington, which reaches northern Virginia. Obama topped McCain in TV spending by $1.6 million in Denver, $2.6 million in Charlotte, N.C.; $8.9 million in Miami; $7 million in Tampa, Fla.; and $1.7 million in Chicago, Tracey told McClatchy. The campaign even advertised in Alaska before McCain picked Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate.
In a grand spending finale, the Obama campaign spent more than $5 million to air a 30-minute prime-time infomercial on six networks. More than 33 million viewers saw the program, according to Nielsen Media Research.
The entire campaign effort made Obama’s rejection of public financing look brilliant, if only a bit dishonest.
With just $80 million in public financing, most past presidential campaigns had to focus on fewer than a dozen so-called swing states. Such constraints did not affect Obama.
Lawrence Jacobs, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for the Study of Politics and Governance, told the Associated Press that the extra money allowed Obama to “set up operations in lots of states that you usually haven’t seen them in, some of the Southern states and places like Indiana where Democrats haven’t won in decades.”
Even liberal groups seem a bit uncomfortable with the scope of Obama’s funding effort. Two days after the election, seven left-leaning groups co-authored a letter urging Obama and congressional Democrats to create a new public financing system.
|call, collect Obama works the phones at his campaign’s local headquarters in Kansas City, Mo.
“A central theme of the 2008 presidential race was the need to fix Washington,” the groups wrote in the joint statement. “President-elect Obama, for example, said during the campaign, â€˜to fix healthcare we have to fix Washington.’
“In order to accomplish this goal, the overriding priority on our reform agenda for the 111th Congress is to repair the presidential public financing system and to create a new public financing system for congressional races.” The Brennan Center for Justice, the Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause, Democracy 21, the League of Women Voters, Public Citizen, and U.S. PIRG joined forces to issue the statement.
“Both candidates ran on an agenda of changing the way Washington works. It’s great rhetoric, but here’s how you do it,” Meredith McGehee, policy director at the Campaign Legal Center, told The Hill. “This is what it’s going to take. This is where it starts. If you don’t fundamentally deal with the way money works in this town, you’re not really changing how Washington works.”
But Tracey said Obama’s success removes any real incentive for Democrats to strengthen public campaign financing laws.
As it stands, any Republican seeking to challenge Obama four years from now “will have to look in the mirror and ask the question, â€˜Can I raise $600 million?’”
Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia, predicts that federal funding “will remain as a safety net for underfunded â€˜populist’ candidates” but won’t be an option for those who want a serious chance of winning.”
While Democrats traditionally criticize “big money Republicans,” Jacobs adds, “the reality is that it’s a liberal Democrat who’s just taken a stick of dynamite to our campaign finance framework.”
Obama “is not mortal,” Jacobs says. “He’s a fundraising god. It’s like biblical in scale.”