‘s decision to forgo public financing for his presidential campaign is at once understandable and unfortunate. Obama’s low estimation of a system plagued by loopholes, lobbyists and smear-ready 527s is appropriate–“public financing…is broken, and we face opponents who have become masters at gaming this system,” he explained. There is a clear strategic rationale for employing his $168 million fundraising advantage to beat
in November. Obama has pledged to overhaul the system once he reaches the White House–his support for the Fair Elections Now Act in the Senate shows a commitment to this issue–and though it’s a bitter pill to swallow, some campaign finance reformers are giving him the benefit of the doubt. “His decision today is not one that furthers reform in the short run,” read a statement from the
Public Campaign Action Fund
, but Obama “now has a special obligation to make passage of comprehensive public financing of all federal elections a priority if elected.”
Others are less sanguine, like Senate colleague and staunch reformer
, who said flatly, “This is not a good decision.” Obama made an early vow to work within the system, and the campaign promised to “aggressively pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee to preserve a publicly financed general election.” His change of heart rightly raises questions about his commitment to a politics free from special interests.
Although Obama speaks of a “grassroots movement of over 1.5 million Americans” that has “fueled this campaign with donations of $5, $10, $20,” the truth is, his campaign is largely reliant on corporate millions and at times has been misleadingly vague about its donor base. In a February debate, Obama claimed, “We have now raised 90 percent of our donations from small donors,” a figure his campaign reiterated after the public financing decision.
In fact, 90 percent of the contributions have been in small amounts, but a majority (55 percent) of the money raised has come from large donations. By the end of May, Obama had received nearly $20 million from the finance, insurance and real estate sectors, according to the
Center for Responsive Politics
, 50 percent more than his Republican rival. Commercial banks, pharmaceutical companies, hedge funds and private-equity firms have all given significantly more to Obama than McCain. Of Obama’s top twenty donors, six are major Wall Street investment houses and five are corporate law firms.
tops the list.
Obama’s decision to pass on public funds for private dollars gives him a financial advantage heading into his showdown with McCain, but at what cost remains unclear. Obama’s “army” of small donors is impressive, but so is the backing he enjoys from Wall Street. “This presidential election is going to set all-time records for spending,” says the reform organization