This week, Obama made the point that by now is clearly manifest: More than anyone, his campaign has come close to virtually (literally and figuratively) capturing campaign finance reform’s holy grail–that is, a campaign powered on the shoulders of small-time contributors. As he told guests at a donor dinner on Tuesday, “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.” Last February, for example, fully 56% of Obama’s whopping $55 million haul came from small donors.
Fair enough. But while the presidential race remains the focus of the public campaign financing debate, it’s really Congress that should be the locus of concern over the influence of money in politics. (Incidentally if you missed Dana Milbank’s column on campaign contributions behind the housing bill, read it here). And when it comes to Congressional fundraising, in recent years, large-donor clout has in fact steadily calcified. In the current race, for example, Democratic Senate challengers have raised only 20% of total funds from small donors; for Democratic incumbents, that figure scrapes the barrel still further at 6%.
Last year in a bold move Hillary Clinton has yet to emulate, Obama signed onto Dick Durbin’s full public financing bill in the Senate. These days no matter how dazzling his own fundraising, let’s hope he stays attuned to the realities of how his colleagues have to finance their own races, too.