WASHINGTON -- Hours after Sen. Barack Obama rejected public financing for his campaign on Thursday after failing to negotiate with rival Sen. John McCain as he said he would, Obama made a stop not publicly disclosed by his campaign: He visited with some of his elite corps of fund-raisers on his National Finance Committee who were meeting in Chicago for briefings and to map fund-raising strategy for the general election.
The Obama campaign wanted the public to focus on his impressive army of small dollar donors -- the 1.5 million people who give $5, $10, $20 -- the day Obama dropped his pledge to ''aggressively'' seek a deal with McCain for both of them to accept public funds -- that is, if certain conditions were met. The Obama campaign did not disclose the agenda for Obama's National Finance Committee or who spoke to the group during their day in Chicago. The fact is Obama still needs massive help from people able to collect or write big checks. More than half of Obama's money, for all his talk of micro-donors, comes from check writers of $200 and up, with much generated by bundlers who use their networks of wealthy friends to raise money for Obama.
According to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, 45 percent of Obama's donors give $200 or less. McCain has been far more dependent on major donors: only 24 percent of his money comes from contributors of $200 or less. Because McCain pledged to take public financing, once he is nominated formally in September at the Republican National Convention, he will not be able to spend, in the weeks leading up to the November election, more than the $84.1 million in taxpayer funds he will receive. For Obama, with his vast fund-raising ability -- from big and small contributors -- the sky is the limit.
Obama's need for big checks -- as well as Internet-fueled small donations -- is why Obama is cranking up for a major fund-raising sprint. He is hitting Los Angeles on Tuesday for a fund-raiser with Hollywood stars, and Warren Buffett headlines a $28,500-per-person event July 2 in Chicago for Obama at the home of Obama finance chair Penny Pritzker.
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The Obama campaign anticipated that Obama would be criticized for flip-flopping on publicly financing his general election campaign, with more coming Sunday from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), acting as a surrogate for McCain on NBC's ''Meet the Press.''
I think the Obama team figures that no matter how many harsh editorials they get and statements of disappointment from government reform groups, they have time and lots of money on their side to drown out these messages. Obama's campaign is calculating millions of dollars of paid ads will repair the damage as they try to convince people that a legion of micro donors is the same as a publically financed general election contest. It is not.
I want to applaud Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) -- acting as the Obama surrogate on the show -- for showing candor that the Obama operation could not muster up in explaining why Obama did not honor his pledge to ''aggressively'' negotiate with McCain. ''I'm not going to color that; he's changed his position,'' Biden said.
Said Graham, ''Well, let me tell you, what he did by breaking his promise is reinforce every bad thing wrong with politics.''