WASHINGTON--Presumptive Democratic nominee--who Thursday rejected public money for his general election campaign, relying instead on private donations--wildly inflates his claims that rival Sen. Barack Obama (D-Az.) campaign is bankrolled by lobbyists and PACs. Brooks Jackson over at FactCheck.Org concludes that Obama is wrong. LINK One of Obama's excuses for opting out of public financing was that McCain and allied Republicans are "fueled" by special interest money.
FactCheck.Org excerpt: "We find that to be a large exaggeration and a lame excuse. In fact, donations from PACs and lobbyists make up less than 1.7 percent of McCain's total receipts, and they account for only about 1.1 percent of the RNC's receipts."
Obama's Lame Claim About McCain's Money
June 20, 2008
Obama says McCain is "fueled" by money from lobbyists and PACs, but those sources account for less than 1.7 percent of McCain's money.
Obama announced he would become the first presidential candidate since 1972 to rely totally on private donations for his general election campaign, opting out of the system of public financing and spending limits that was put in place after the Watergate scandal.
One reason, he said, is that "John McCain’s campaign and the Republican National Committee are fueled by contributions from Washington lobbyists and special interest PACs."
We find that to be a large exaggeration and a lame excuse. In fact, donations from PACs and lobbyists make up less than 1.7 percent of McCain's total receipts, and they account for only about 1.1 percent of the RNC's receipts.
Sen. Barack Obama declared June 19 that he would not accept public funds for his general election campaign and would instead finance it entirely with private donations. Or, as he put it, with money from "the American people." He thus will not be bound by the spending limits that would have come with taxpayer money, and he will be legally free to spend as much as he can manage to raise.
Hi, this is Barack Obama.
I have an important announcement and I wanted all of you – the people who built this movement from the bottom-up – to hear it first. We’ve made the decision not to participate in the public-financing system for the general election. This means we’ll be forgoing more than $80 million in public funds during the final months of this election.
It’s not an easy decision, and especially because I support a robust system of public financing of elections. But the public financing of presidential elections as it exists today is broken, and we face opponents who’ve become masters at gaming this broken system. John McCain’s campaign and the Republican National Committee are fueled by contributions from Washington lobbyists and special interest PACs. And we’ve already seen that he’s not going to stop the smears and attacks from his allies running so-called 527 groups, who will spend millions and millions of dollars in unlimited donations.
From the very beginning of this campaign, I have asked my supporters to avoid that kind of unregulated activity and join us in building a new kind of politics – and you have. Instead of forcing us to rely on millions from Washington lobbyists and special interest PACs, you’ve fueled this campaign with donations of $5, $10, $20, whatever you can afford. And because you did, we’ve built a grassroots movement of over 1.5 million Americans. We’ve won the Democratic nomination by relying on ordinary people coming together to achieve extraordinary things.
You’ve already changed the way campaigns are funded because you know that’s the only way we can truly change how Washington works. And that’s the path we will continue in this general election. I’m asking you to try to do something that’s never been done before. Declare our independence from a broken system, and run the type of campaign that reflects the grassroots values that have already changed our politics and brought us this far.
If we don’t stand together, the broken system we have now, a system where special interests drown out the voices of the American people will continue to erode our politics and prevent the possibility of real change. That’s why we must act. The stakes are higher than ever, and people are counting on us.
Every American who is desperate for a fair economy and affordable health care, who wants to bring our troops back from Iraq. Who hopes for a better education and future for his or her child, these people are relying on us. You and me. This is our moment and our country is depending on us. So join me, and declare your independence from this broken system and let’s build the first general election campaign that’s truly funded by the American people. With this decision this campaign is in your hands in a way that no campaign has ever been before. Now is the time to act. Thank you so much.
A Lame Excuse
However, the first of the two reasons he gave for his decision doesn't square very well with the facts. In a video recording sent to supporters, Obama said:
Obama: We face opponents who’ve become masters at gaming this broken system. John McCain’s campaign and the Republican National Committee are fueled by contributions from Washington lobbyists and special interest PACs.
To say that either the McCain campaign or the RNC are "fueled" by money from lobbyists and PACs is an overstatement, to say the least. Such funds make up less than 1.7 percent of McCain's presidential campaign receipts and 1.1 percent of the RNC's income.
McCain – As of the end of April, the McCain campaign had reported receiving $655,576 from lobbyists, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That is less than seven-tenths of 1 percent of his total receipts of $96,654,783. His campaign also took in $960,990 from PACs, amounting to just under 1 percent of total receipts. The two sources combined make up less than 1.7 percent of his total.
RNC – The Republican National Committee has raised $143,298,225, of which only $135,000 has been come from lobbyists, according to the CRP. That's less than one-tenth of 1 percent. It also took in about 1 percent of its receipts from PACs, CRP said. Taken together, that's about 1.1 percent from PACs and lobbyists.
It's not our place to comment on the wisdom or propriety of Obama's financial strategy, except to note that it is perfectly legal and also that McCain and Obama both refused to accept public funds or spending limits during the primary campaign.
We also note that Obama's decision – whatever may have motivated it – is likely to give him a big financial advantage over McCain in the weeks just before the November election. This is a reversal of the historic pattern, in which Republican candidates have nearly always been able to out-raise their Democratic rivals. Had Obama accepted public funds, as McCain is expected to do, both candidates would have been limited to spending $84.1 million, all of it from taxpayers. But Obama has shown the potential for raising and spending much more.
The Obama campaign already has raised $265 million through the end of April, more than two-and-a-half times as much as McCain has taken in. Figures for May are due out soon. The Obama campaign said on May 6 that it had surpassed 1.5 million individual donors, and it probably has many more than that by now. All of those primary donors are legally free to make new contributions to finance Obama's general election campaign, which officially commences after he becomes certified as the Democratic party's nominee at the convention at the end of August.
The lobbyist figures we give here could stand some minor refinement. The totals might be reduced somewhat if the CRP used Obama's rather narrow definition of "lobbyist." Obama makes a point of refusing money from those who are currently registered to lobby at the federal level. The CRP has a broader definition, counting money from anyone working at a lobbying firm, registered or not, state or federal, and their families as well. By CRP's definition Obama himself has taken in $161,927 from lobbyists.
On the other hand, CRP does not count registered lobbyists who work in-house for corporations, industry groups and unions, but classifies them with their industries. Adding those in-house lobbyists to the total could increase the amounts somewhat. But adding donations from in-house lobbyists and subtracting donations from those who don't meet Obama's strict definition would not be likely to change the total by much, and certainly not by enough to justify Obama's claim that McCain and the RNC are "fueled" by such donations.
Also, for what it's worth, the Democratic National Committee has historically been far more reliant on PAC and lobbyist money than the RNC. In 2004, PACs provided about 10 percent of the DNC's total fundraising and only about 1 percent of the RNC's total, according to the CRP. Obama, after he sewed up enough delegates to win the party's nomination, sent word to the DNC to stop accepting PAC and lobbyist donations.
-by Brooks Jackson
Ritsch, Massie. "Obama Puts Lobbyists, PACs on DNC's Do-Not-Call List." Center for Responsive Politics, 5 June 2008.
"Selected Industry Total to Candidates." Center for Responsive Politics Web site, accessed 19 June 2008.
"Summary Data: John McCain." Center for Responsive Politics Web site accessed, 19 June 2008.