Saturday, June 21, 2008

Barack Obama Goes Off the Dole

You know the check box on your tax return where you can earmark $3 to the Presidential Election Fund? Well that money goes to the two major parties candidates, $84.1 million apiece for the fall 2008 election campaign, if they decide to accept it.

There are some strings attached, the main one being that the candidate isn’t allowed to raise any private funds for the general election. But every major party candidate has opted to take the public money since the system was established in 1971, that is until Barack Obama.

Charging that the system is broken, Obama has decided to go off the dole and forgo the public money, banking that he can raise more through his own efforts. He argues that his system for raising money, where 90% of donations are from small donors, is true public financing.

We’d like to know if 90% of the money Obama is raising comes from small donors, or whether as we suspect there are large numbers of small donors but most of the money is coming from a few large donors. The Obama campaign does say that over 69,000 people have donated since they made the announcement Thursday night.

This may be the end for the proponents of campaign finance reform. Republicans have always viewed the system suspiciously, thinking it principally a ploy by Democrats to equalize campaign spending between their candidates and better-financed Republicans. With the Democrats dumping the system the first time they seem poised to out fundraise the Republicans, they are surrendering the high ground on this issue. John McCain has stuck his neck out on campaign finance reform many times, often at personal political cost, and that fact will also not be lost on Republican officeholders.

On the other hand, LBOTC finds something undemocratic about the current public finance system and has never checked the box on our tax returns.

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