Livin' it up, American style

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Eenie, meenie, minie, mo. Who can raise the most dough?

Hilary Rodham Clinton announced she was entering the presidential race on Saturday, declaring she was "in to win". At the same time, she also said that she was forgoing money from the public election funds for both the primary and general elections, becoming the first candidate to ever do so. Unfortunately, her move may signal the end of public financing of elections.

You may have noticed a little checkbox on your tax returns that said check here if you wish to donate $3 to the public election fund. This fund is used to help finance the primary and/or general election cycle of someone running for president. A candidate who accepts the public funding can no longer accept private contributions and has to follow certain spending limits, both state-by-state and nationwide. The idea was that after a candidate had been nominated by his party, he would rely on the public funding for his money instead of continuing to focus on fundraising, which would free up more time for campaigning and public appearances.

Candidates have given up the public funding money in primary races before, like Kerry and Bush in 2004, but not in the general election too. Doing so gives Clinton a big financial advantage, and will put pressure on her rivals to also refuse public financing in order to have a chance to compete. She is no longer limited to spending only what the fund gives her, which in 2004 provided over $80 million to Kerry and Bush. But now she has 2 years to go all out and raise as much money as she can, and can simultaneously raise money for both a primary race, and a general election race.

Many of her other rivals for the Democratic nomination have made no comment on whether they too will opt completely out of public funding, but some Republicans contenders have already stated their intentions. Mitt Romney, former Gov of Massachusetts, has opted out of funding for the primaries, and John McCain (yes, the same John McCain who was the sponsor of the most recent campaign spending reform act, the McCain-Feingold Bill) has said he may also opt out of public funding.

How did public funding fall so far out of favor that even the man who built a reputation on fighting for changes in election spending is considering abandoning it? (other than the fact that he has consistently shown how he is willing to sell out his beliefs if it puts him closer to the presidency?)
Public funding first began to break down when Bush opted out of it during the 2000 primary. He had no limits on his money raising and spending, but his opponents did, giving him a large and obvious financial edge. In 2004, Bush, John Kerry and Howard Dean all opted out of public financing during the primaries, and it is quite certain that Clinton will only be the first of many candidates to opt out of the public financing in 2008. In recent years, the election season has been extended, with people declaring their candidacy almost 2 years before the next election. 2 years is a lot of TV, radio and print ads to pay for, and a lot of fancy fundraising dinners you can hold. It's time to let the money raising and money spending race begin.


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