BERKELEY, Calif. -- The comments that landed Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) in a jam -- that working-class Pennsylvanians clung to guns, religion, anti-immigrant and anti-trade sentiments because they were "bitter"-- came at a high-dollar fund-raiser, the third of four San Francisco Bay area events last Sunday squeezed into an afternoon. Obama continues to woo large contributors even as the 2008 campaign marks the remarkable rise of "micro-donors."
In the space of a few hours, Obama mingled with $2,300 donors at the homes of Sara and Sohaib Abbasi; Nancy and Bob Farese plus Gordan and Ann Getty, with the political gaffe occuring at a $1,000 per-person reception at the home of Alex Mehran and Carolyn Davis in a posh area of San Francisco.
Unknown to Obama, Huffington Post Off the Bus writer Mayhill Fowler was at the closed-to-the-press reception, taped Obama's remarks and posted her scoop. Obama was handed a headache just as he is courting blue collar Pennsylvania voters.
At another $1,000-per-person fund-raiser -- Wednesday in Washington -- (the campaign allowed a pool reporter) Obama said his small-dollar fund-raising was so successful that "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.''
Was Obama's talk of a "parallel" system a way out of a pledge to consider public financing if the nominee? Friday, Obama said "I wasn't trying to send a signal."
The 2008 cycle might mean the demise of a voluntary, public finance system, said Prof. Richard L. Hasen, an election law specialist at the Loyola Law School in Los Angeles who coined the term "micro donors" to describe the spike in small dollar giving. He spoke Friday at a forum sponsored by the University of California's Institute of Governmental Studies and Boalt Law School. (I was a panelist at one session.)
But now that the question is on the table: Is a "parallel" system of low-dollar contributions the same as public financing? No, because it's still private money.
However, while not the same method, both can lead to the same public policy goal of diluting the influence of money in politics, Hasen said.
"What I think he is saying," said Hasen about Obama, is "that the army of small donors serves a similar goal which is that it can promote political equality by not putting the fund-raising in the hands or large donors and it serves the anti-corruption goal because you don't have large donors giving money. By keeping the donations small, you are arguable serving the same interests."