Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Random Political Funding

During campaign seasons, I find it safer when asked what I do for a living to say that I'm a stand-up comedienne -- which, given my teaching style, isn't far from the truth. The reason for this fudging is that when politics is heavily in the news, people have opinions. Strong opinions. They think that if their opinion matches that of a professor of politics, they are smart. However, is often the case, my professional opinion can differ from their casual viewpoint, and in those cases they feel the need to argue with me so that I would "admit" that they are smarter than I.

Yet another reason why I do not want this country to pass a law making voting mandatory -- I really don't want the ignorant and the mentally entrenched to be forced to vote.

The problem is that this country contains a number of people with strong political opinions. Thus even the mundane is invaded with discussions of politics. Such was my luck to visit my old religious society on the day that the sermon covered the current political climate.

The minister had been given a request by a member of the congregation to preach on leadership and politics. The minister's passion for the topic was commendable, but her perspective was limited. It is understandable that a minister of any religion would object to the fact that one candidate for president this year has rejected his previous promise to accept public financing, and thus a limit on expenditures. After all, one's honor is tied to one's ability to keep one's word. In this case, the minister was unhappy because "her" guy was breaking a promise.

But there's more than one man's honor at stake here. What is at stake is the honor of all the parties and their members within this year's campaign. Unfortunately, this country has gotten too used to dirty politics. Senator McCain and Senator Obama have each said that he will run a 'clean' campaign. That's great, but the truth is that there are more players on the field than the two campaigns.

In the 2004 election, President Bush was able to run a 'clean' campaign and win because Senator Kerry had to run against both the Bush campaign and the tax-exempt, unregulated 527s, the most notable of which was the 'Swift Boat Veterans for Truth' folks.

So, Obama has decided to refuse public funding. Big whoop.

He said that to limit his funding wouldn't make sense given the previous presidential campaign. Obama fully expects the Republican party and some 527s to come to the ball game with the intention of allowing McCain to keep his campaign clean while slinging the mud at Obama.

That fear may be well founded. McCain strategist Steve Schmidt pointed out that "the candidate who rebuked the Swift Boat Veterans might not do the same this time when it’s his name on the ballot". Top that with reports that while McCain condemned the adverts run by the North Carolina Republican party during that state's primary, he did say that "I am not going to referee, I am just going to run my own campaign." In fact, despite his statements that he did all in his power to kill the ad campaign, the NC GOP chairwoman said that she hadn't been contacted directly by McCain. Thus, the message appears to be that McCain may not like what conservative 527s may do to advance his cause, but he's not going to do anything about them.

On the other hand, Obama may not have much to fear in the way of those attack 527s. Most of the ones that have already geared up were aimed at targeting Senator Clinton. David Bossie organizer of Citizens United and fervent anti-Clinton political player, had "spent 18 months and millions of dollars making 'Hillary The Movie,'" but the problem is that the movie isn't relevant in a campaign out of which Clinton has bowed. After spending so much on the anti-Hillary campaign, the organization is lacking the funds to seriously go after Obama. And they are not the only one suffering from limited funds; Richard Collins' StopHerNow group raised only $8,000 more than it spent in the last reported cycle. The Republican public affairs firm that set up and funded Progress for America 2004 has allowed that 527 to die, mostly out of concern for losing their more money generating clients. T. Boone Pickens, the man who gave the Swift Boat 527 $3 million to run its campaign has, through his spokesperson, announced his withdraw from this year's presidential campaign, disappointing many who had hoped for his financial backing.

"Conversations with more than a dozen Republican strategists find near unanimity in the belief that, at some point, there will be a real third-party effort aimed at Obama." But funding just isn't there at this point; and, when there is funding, it might be too late to make a difference.

However, studies have shown that electoral memory is about six weeks. Thus, if those 527s can gear up before the end of September, they could affect the outcome of the election. Rumor has it that Karl Rove is contacting large donors in hopes of starting up an effective 527 by then.

But there is question as to whether this would be a good thing for the Republican party. A survey of 2,602 adults done the first week of May, 2008 by BYU/Harris Interactive showed that voters are more positive towards campaigns and associated parties that take small donations from individuals rather than large donations from special interest groups. The sentiment was stronger among those who had made donations to a campaign: 68% of this group said that they would view a candidate more positively if that candidate relied on small donations. This would be more significant if not for the fact that only about 11% of Americans donate to campaigns.

On the other hand, all those polled said that the total amount of money raised wouldn't change their view on a campaign or a candidate. Seems that it's not the total amount, but how that amount is raised.

When it comes to Obama's original promise, the voting public doesn't seem to care. In the same poll, 74% of the respondents reported that they would view Obama neither positively nor negatively if he rejected public financing. For McCain, the number was 72%. Those numbers are aggregates. Seems that if respondents are separated by party identification, it's more telling: 78% of Democrats have a neutral position on whether Obama rejects public financing, and 66% of Republicans have a neutral position on McCain's rejection of public funding.

Thus, the minister at my childhood religious society may be one of the few who is disappointed by Obama's "flip-flop" on campaign financing, just as McCain has "flip-flopped" on other issues. A man's word is his honor, but American's aren't worried too much about honor in this presidential race. They want "their" guy to win. Perhaps there is truth to the idea that American voters get the president they deserve.

Don't agree with my opinion? That's your right, and I will defend your right to be wrong. Just as soon as I'm done with my next set at the mic.

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