Friday, March 21, 2008

Fundraising Totals Heading for the Record Books

New campaign finance reports show fundraising patterns for the 2008 election heading into record-breaking territory.

The Los Angeles Times has
a report:

Led by Barack Obama, Democratic and Republican presidential contenders -- including the remaining candidates and those who dropped out -- have raised $790 million since the campaign began 14 months ago, campaign finance reports filed Thursday show.

Obama, the freshman Democratic senator from Illinois, reported raising $192.7 million and spending $154.7 million on his campaign through the end of February. He spent $42.7 million in February while competing in more than 30 nominating contests.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) was second in fundraising. She collected $34.6 million in February, pushing her total to $173.8 million. That includes $10 million from her Senate campaign account and a $5-million personal loan. Clinton owes consultants and other vendors an additional $3.7 million.

The presumptive GOP nominee, John McCain, raised $11 million in February, his best month. Overall, the Arizona senator had raised $60.2 million, and spent $49 million through the end of February. McCain paid off much of his debt to consultants and other vendors. An aide to McCain said Thursday that McCain had raised more in the month of March than he did in any three-month period previously.

McCain's campaign stalled last summer when he ran out of money. He said at the time that he would take federal matching funds for the primary season, but he reversed that position after he became the presumptive nominee and money started flowing.

Through the same 14-month period four years earlier, President Bush raised $158 million and Sen. John Kerry $41.4 million for their presidential runs.

Democratic presidential candidates overall, including those who dropped out, raised $461 million and spent $384.7 million, compared with Republicans, who raised $328.8 million and spent $290.8 million.
By the end of the primary period in 2004, Bush had raised $275 million and John Kerry $253 million. Both candidates did without public financing in the primaries, although they both accepted full public financing for the general election.

So far this year, it looks like both candidates in the general election will foregore public financing to run their campaigns entirely on individual "hard-money" contributions, but there are some uncertainties. The Wall Street Journal looks at the role of individual contributors in election 2008, with an emphasis on the powerful trends in online giving:
The recent flood of Internet donations that has helped pump 2008 presidential campaign coffers to highs also is accomplishing what Watergate-era campaign-finance regulations set out to do: dilute the influence of special interests and wealthy donors.

The main beneficiaries of the boom in small donors are Democratic contenders Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Both were expected to file reports with the Federal Election Commission Thursday night detailing their February fund raising. The Obama campaign has released numbers indicating the Illinois senator would report raising about $55 million in February, a one-month record for a primary candidate. About 90% of the total came from donors who gave in increments of $100 or less.

New York Sen. Clinton also has seen a jump in small donations: For the $35 million she received in February, the average donation was about $100, and about 80% came over the Internet, campaign officials said. In January, 35% of her money came from donors giving $200 or less, compared with 16% from such donors in the last three months of 2007, according to the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute in Washington. "I think what it shows is you can run major campaigns on small donations. The Internet makes it more possible," said Brad Smith, a former Republican chairman of the FEC, and now chairman of the Center for Competitive Politics, a conservative legal organization in Alexandria, Va....

The surge in small Web donations comes as the three-decade-old rules for public financing of presidential campaigns are fraying. The system, designed to ensure that candidates have enough resources to make their case to voters and to encourage them to seek small donations, uses taxpayer money to match the first $250 a campaign raises from each donor. But for candidates in the primaries, it imposes strict spending limits that Congress never indexed to inflation, leading some candidates to shun public funding as inadequate.

For general elections, the government makes a lump-sum grant to the two major party candidates -- this year, $85 million. No nominee has ever opted out of the general-election public system, but Sen. Obama is considering it. "We have built the kind of organization that is funded by the American people. That is exactly the goal and the aim of everybody who's interested in good government and politics," Sen. Obama said in a Feb. 26 debate.
I'll be surprised if Obama takes public financing for the fall campaign.

What's more interesting is the GOP equation. John McCain, the maverick campaign finance reform advocate, will handicap himself with public money. Obama will likely raise more than $85 million, and should McCain accept public money, he could put himself at a competitive disadvantage should the Dedmocratic money machine pick up steam even more in the next few months. GOP campaign bundlers can match Democratic Party financial firepower, even in a year like this one, in which the Democrats are attracting so much attention (thus money dynamics will be close on both sides). McCain's money strategies will go a long way toward shaping the competitiveness of the race, of course. He'll need to clarify his positions on money in politics as we go forward, considering his abject wrong-headedness on the issue in past years.

Whoever wins in November should put campaign finance on the top of their legislative agenda. We need fewer - if any - limitations on individual contributions. As this year's showing, people want to support the candidates of their choice.

The old Watergate-era campaign finance regulatory regime's not working, and Americans need to think anew about the relationship of campaign giving, policy influence, and democratic participation.