Saturday, November 29, 2008

Legend fabrication watch: The small donor myth bites the dust 

History will record that Barack Obama destroyed campaign finance regulation in this country. He exploited John McCain's fidelity to the law that bears his name by rejecting the public system for financing presidential campaigns knowing that McCain could not bring himself to follow suit. Basically, Obama hoisted just about the only nationally important Republican politican who supports campaign finance regulation on his own petard, thereby making it impossible for other Republicans to accept public money and permissible for Democrats to decline it. As a regulatory device, public campaign finance is dead and Barack Obama killed it.

Obama threw up a number of justifications for this decision, but his most widely-quoted defense was that his reliance on "small donors" displaced at least one of the reasons for regulating campaign donations: That the rich dudes would steal the election. Robert Gibbs, the Obama campaign's communication director, actually took a victory lap when his boss announced the decision to rejected public funds back in June:

But, bottom line, the Obama camp believes that its reliance on small donors for its historic fundraising success is itself reforming the financing of campaigns. More than 90 percent of Obama's donors, Gibbs says, gave $100 or less, and the campaign doesn't accept money from lobbyists. "Campaign finance reform," Gibbs says, "is taking place in our campaign."

Well, it turns out that Gibbs fibbed:
Everybody knows how President-elect Barack Obama's amazing campaign money machine was dominated by several million regular folks sending in hard-earned amounts under $200, a real sign of his broadbased grassroots support.

Except, it turns out, that's not really true.

In fact, Obama's base of small donors was almost exactly the same percent as George W. Bush's in 2004 -- Obama had 26% and the great Republican satan 25%. Obviously, this is unacceptable to current popular thinking.

But the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute just issued a detailed study of Obama's donor base and its giving. And that's what the Institute found, to its own surprise.

"The myth is that money from small donors dominated Barack Obama's finances," said CFI's executive director Michael Malbin, admitting that his organization also was fooled. "The reality of Obama's fundraising was impressive, but the reality does not match the myth."

Adding up the total contributions from the same small individuals (in terms of dollar amounts, not their height), the Institute discovered that rather than the 50+% commonly....

...reported throughout the campaign, only 26% of Obama's contributions through last August and only 24% through Oct. 15 came from people whose total donations added up to less than $200.

The key word there being "total."

It should not surprise us, I suppose, that a presidential campaign's communications directors should just up and lie. The amazing thing is that he was able to do so without being called to the carpet by the press, which had the truth at its fingertips in a searchable database, if only it were interested.

Now, I am no big fan of public-financing for election campaigns, so I appreciate all that Barack Obama has done to discredit it. Let us not hear again, though, from the editorial board of the New York Times or any of the other press barons who purport to want to get the money out of politics. They had their chance to dig deeply into the substance and process of the Obama campaign's fundraising when it might have had an impact and declined to do so for reasons that are all too obvious.

We will remember.

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Nov 29, 06:26:00 PM:

"They had their chance to dig deeply into the substance and process of the Obama campaign's fundraising when it might have had an impact and declined to do so for reasons that are all too obvious."

So what do we do about non-transparent media bias? I was thinking this morning about the newspaper business as I spread out the real estate section to shield the kitchen tile from spattered sausage grease. For decades the real estate section did not carry a disclaimer labeling it an"advertising" section. Stories of "great bargains in 3 Bedroom Split levels" looked just like news stories. Now, at least in my area, the real estate section is labeled correctly. Will we see a return to the days when media outlets labeled themselves by their political alignment?  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Nov 29, 07:24:00 PM:

Let me interpolate some of these facts: If roughly 25% of donors gave $200 or less, than we can infer that the rest (75%) gave more than $200? What % gave, say, 2million dollars? 20 million? How much did George Soros give? If Obama raised more than 600 million, which the ever-inquiring msm has reported, then big contributors with high stakes in the outcome of this election gave the most. I womder why......? NOT.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Nov 29, 07:37:00 PM:

Take it a step further...those under $200 donors could very well have been large donors using an alias of ...Ohhhh I don't know...dodadpro...etc...

Rinse lather repeat... The 26% number is higher than reality and we all know it...but the FEC will not even look into it.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Nov 29, 08:11:00 PM:

Well said, TH. Let's hope CFR is allowed to die. One expects the media to be uninterested in Obama's fundraising, but it is disheartening to see the FEC's lack of interest as well. It leads one to wonder what the purpose of the FEC is if they won't enforce the rules?  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Sat Nov 29, 08:23:00 PM:

"It leads one to wonder what the purpose of the FEC is if they won't enforce the rules? "

I've wondered that myself. If they can't be bothered even to get a copy of a candidate's birth certificate ahead of time or investigate foreign contributions to a presidential campaign, why have them in the first place?

Politics get dirtier and dirtier, and no one seems to care. I wonder how long before foreign states begin to financially back candidates?  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Nov 29, 08:46:00 PM:

General question: are people still raising the birth certificate issue? Really? Courtesy of "Let Me Google That For You":


Also, as regards campaign finance, why the urge to more politicians on the public teat? If you want uncapped donations, just argue "plutocracy thumbs up" and be done with it, because that is what the disagreement comes down to anyway.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Sat Nov 29, 10:36:00 PM:

You miss the point. It never should have become an issue to be raised. The FEC should have had a copy they could hold up in the air. That they didn't means that they never even bothered to check the basic Constitutional requirements for running for the office of the Presidency. A candidate with a foreigner father (no automatic citizenship, because of that) who lived his early life overseas? It was at least worth checking.

Likewise with Obama's fundraising. That call banks soliciting donations on his behalf operated in freaking Gaza City ought to have been a "check me" sign as well.  

By Blogger Gary Rosen, at Sat Nov 29, 11:01:00 PM:

TH, are you suggesting that BO is not the dawn of brand new age in America but just another cynical, hustling politician? I'm shocked, shocked!  

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