Breaking A Promise

I’ve had mixed feelings about whether or not Obama should stick to his pledge to use public financing. On one hand, there’s a lot to be said for keeping a promise. On the other hand, doing so would be like going bare foot in a race against John McCain when you could be driving a corvette.

While I was leaning more towards hoping Obama would use public financing, it is looking as though his campaign is stepping back from that pledge. Fortunately for Obama, they have a pretty solid argument:

“We have created a parallel public financing system where the American people decide if they want to support a campaign they can get on the Internet and finance it, and they will have as much access and influence over the course and direction of our campaign that has traditionally been reserved for the wealthy and the powerful,” Obama said.

I can understand where the Obama campaign is coming from. When the pledge was first made, how was anyone to know that Obama would eventually become the front-runner, and have at his disposal an unheard of fund-raising machine?

Let’s remember, when this campaign first started, everyone was talking about Hillary Clinton’s ability to raise money, her war-chest, and her connection to big name and big dollar donors. How was anyone supposed to know that Obama would be able to establish a system that would dwarf hers?

Last month Obama’s contributions doubled Hillary’s, and this during a month where Obama suffered the worst controversy to hit his campaign yet (possibly explaining the dip in funds from February by fifteen million dollars).

More importantly, though, and what lends a kind of moral credibility to Obama’s argument is where this money is coming from. Not only is Obama netting record setting numbers in campaign contributions, but he’s doing it with a high volume of small donors. Well over a million people have donated to the Obama campaign with the average donation at around $150.

In a way, this creates a fundraising system that is ultimately more democratic and fair than the public financing system would be. if the whole point of this exercise is to prevent big money, big power, and big corporations from essentially buying a president, Obama has found the cure; one where average people making modest donations own his candidacy more than any big name or corporation.

Even better, unlike the public financing system which essentially asks all tax payers to fund all candidates whether they agree with them or not, Obama’s system allows small voices to band together to use their monetary reserves to make a difference by funding a message they support.

This is a far cry from abandoning the ideal of public financing, but instead embracing the ideal with something superior.

McCain’s attempts to pin Obama down to public financing reminds me of McCain Feingold; legislation that many on the right have criticized for inhibiting free speech, while most people recognize that it essentially failed its function as 527’s are as powerful, if not more powerful than ever before. The intention behind the legislation is good, but then we also know where the path paved with good intentions ultimately leads.

Besides, it’s not like John McCain’s record on public financing is crystal clear either.

Either way, I’m not terribly worried over the situation. As Marc Ambinder points out, I don’t think it’s realistic to think that campaign finance, among all the other issues on our plates these days, is going to end up being a major campaign issue this fall.

More from Memeorandum: Hot Air, TalkLeft, Marc Ambinder, Weekly Standard Blog, Ben Smith’s Blogs, Fox News, TownHall Blog, Hotline On Call, The Reaction and Real Clear Politics

3 Responses to “Breaking A Promise”

  1. DM Metzger says:

    Quite honestly my response to people who bring up this question is always simple: “What do you think he has now if not a publicly financed campaign?”

    He’s managed to organically do what McCain-Feingold tried (and failed) all those years ago to accomplish; why should he restrict that now?

  2. Dynamic says:

    As DM said, he’s not backing away from public financing – he HAS public financing, just through a different mechanism.

    I was in favour of him keeping his promise as well, but explained this way, I think he’s right to do what he’s doing, and I think he is keeping his promise, at least in spirit.

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