On Obama's rationale for rejecting public money for campaign: "Disappointed," says Democracy 21

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From Democracy 21----

We do not agree with Senator Obama's rationale for opting out of the system. Senator Obama knew the circumstances surrounding the presidential general election when he made his public pledge to use the system.

click below for full statement

Democracy 21 Press Release, June 19, 2008, www.democracy21.org

Statement of Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer
on Decision by Senator Obama Not to Accept Public Financing for Presidential General Election

Democracy 21 is very disappointed that Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) has decided not to accept public financing for his presidential general election campaign.

We had hoped and expected that Senator Obama would stick with the public pledge he made to accept public financing and spending limits for the presidential general election, if he was nominated, and if his Republican opponent also agreed to accept public financing and spending limits for the general election. These conditions have been met.

We do not agree with Senator Obama's rationale for opting out of the system. Senator Obama knew the circumstances surrounding the presidential general election when he made his public pledge to use the system.

With his decision, Senator Obama will become the first major party presidential nominee to reject public financing for his general election campaign, since the public financing system was established in 1974.

Senator Obama's decision to opt out of the general election public financing system makes it all the more important for Senator Obama to personally make clear to the public in no uncertain terms that if he is elected, one of the early priorities for his Administration will be enacting legislation to repair the presidential public financing system.

In the current Congress, Senator Obama is one of the three lead Senate sponsors of the Presidential Funding Act of 2007 (S.2412), legislation to fix the presidential public financing system, particularly the system for presidential primaries. The other lead Senate sponsors of this bipartisan legislation are Senators Russell Feingold (D-WI) and Susan Collins (R-ME).

Revitalizing the presidential public financing system is essential to protecting the integrity and credibility of the presidency and the interests of citizens in fair government decisions.

Public Financing of Presidential Elections

The presidential public financing system has served the nation well for most of its thirty-four year existence. The system has been described by campaign finance scholar Tony Corrado as, "the most innovative change in federal campaign finance law in American history."

Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne has written about the system:

"Opponents of campaign finance reform love to claim that the money-in-politics problem is insoluble. But the public financing of presidential campaigns, instituted in response to the Watergate scandals of the early 1970s, was that rare reform that accomplished exactly what it was supposed to achieve."

"Reform Worth Rescuing"

Columnist E.J. Dionne

The Washington Post, August 18, 2006

In recent years, however, the public financing system for the presidential primaries has broken down, in good part because the overall spending limit for the presidential primaries has not kept pace with the costs of a modern presidential primary campaign.

The same problems, however, do not exist with the public financing system in the general election. In 2008, a major party nominee opting into the system would receive an $85 million grant and could control another $20 million in party spending, for a total of $105 million in expenditures for just a nine-week general election campaign.

In the 2008 presidential primaries, Senator Obama made an extraordinary and unprecedented breakthrough in raising small contributions on the Internet.

The Obama Internet fundraising success, however, was the exception, not the rule, in the 2008 presidential primaries.

Larger contributions of $1,000 or more provided the major source of funding for most of the other major presidential primary candidates who ran in 2008, according to the Campaign Finance Institute (CFI).

During 2007, furthermore, when Senator Obama was raising the money critical to his ability to compete as a serious presidential candidate in 2008, he raised 54 percent, or $52 million, of his total individual contributions for the primaries in larger donations of $1,000 or more, according to CFI.

Bundlers, furthermore, played a key role in raising the larger donations for the 2008 presidential candidates in both parties.

The presidential public financing reform legislation pending in the Senate (S. 2412) and sponsored by Senators Feingold, Obama and Collins provides for a major innovation in the matching funds system for presidential primary candidates, which would recognize and encourage small donor fundraising on the Internet.

The legislation would make available public matching funds of $4 for every $1 raised by a presidential primary candidate, up to $200 of each individual contribution. The current presidential primary matching system provides $1 for every $1 raised, up to $250 of each individual contribution.

The new multiple $4 for $1 matching system would open the door to Internet small donors becoming the principal source of private funds for all future presidential primary candidates, not just for one or two candidates.

It would create enormous new incentives for presidential candidates to focus on raising smaller contributions on the Internet, since each contribution of $200 would provide a presidential candidate with a total of $1,000.

The $4 for $1 matching system would achieve core democracy goals: making the individual small donor the most important private funder of presidential primary races; greatly diminishing the role and influence of bundlers and larger donors; and increasing citizen participation in presidential elections.

The argument that the Obama campaign has created a parallel system of public financing through its Internet small donor fundraising does not hold up. As noted earlier, larger contributions and bundlers already have played an important role in financing the Obama presidential primary campaign and may well do so in the general election.

In any event, the success of one candidate in raising extraordinary amounts of small contributions does not provide a new system of "public financing" for all presidential candidates.

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on June 20, 2008 1:51 AM.

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