Opinion: Obama's Poorly Timed Fundraiser

As the Fed predicts two more years of a sluggish economy, President Obama's $76,000-per-couple fundraiser shows that his campaign treasury isn't suffering.

As regular Americans face sustained unemployment, Anna Wintour, Gwyneth Paltrow and Quentin Tarantino - all expected to attend the event - are doing OK. As the debt and deficit debates demand deep cuts into services that support working families, there is no reduction in how much our politicians can - and must - raise to be competitive.

Call it bad timing. It's no secret that our presidential candidates need to raise extraordinary amounts of money, so the president isn't any more to hypocritical to rake in cash during an austerity craze than fellow candidate Mitt Romney who, taking advantage of the Citizens United reality, had received one million dollars from a secret donor (since revealed to be a Bain executive). In Obama's defense, everyone is doing it.

Which might make it necessary - but doesn't make it right.

Obama's poorly timed fundraiser is worse than just bad optics. It's at the root of bad policy. It's a reminder of what our leaders need to do to get elected. When you see from whom they get support, it's no surprise who their decisions support. It's no surprise that banks are getting bailed out while American homeowners are under water, that oil companies keep getting subsidies while working Americans see higher prices at the gas pump and why millionaires get tax cuts and our shared infrastructure bears the cost.

The way campaigns are financed is legalized bribery (and, at times, legalized extortion). We all know it, which is why we can rationalize the president taking more money from each supporter who wants to dine with him than many of the voters who put him in office make in a year.

But sometimes you wish we'd all be a little less rational about it, as MSNBC host Dylan Ratigan was in his Howard Beale moment on his show the other day.

He declared that all of Congress - both parties - were in on a systemic racket, and that the hot pursuit of campaign cash was the major corrupting influence on our country. Then, when asked what the president could do with it, he suggested Obama stand up and declare that since Congress was bought-and-sold by big donors, he was going to push past Congress and work directly with the American people.

It's a fun, fiery freak-out, but it's sadly removed from reality - because Obama can't accuse Congress of being corrupted any more than Romney could accuse Obama or Rick Perry could accuse Romney. They are all in the same game, all playing by the same rules. It may seem hypocritical to hold high-end fundraisers while the economy is suffering; but it would be truly hypocritical to accuse any other politician of being worse than you because of the money they raised. More likely, they are just better at the game.

Maybe there would be ways for the President to change the politics around his fundraising. He could only accept money from super rich donors who sign the "Patriotic Millionaires" letter in support of progressive taxation. He could refuse money from industries that give bonuses with government bail-out cash. He could tell his funders to put the billion dollars he intends to spend directly into hiring workers - creating 20,000 decent-wage jobs…a nd maybe doing more to help his campaign than airing TV ads will.

But until we see real campaign finance reform, dinner at Harvey Weinstein is how even the best politicians get their chance to be heard, even as it decreases the chance that we'll like what we're hearing.

Justin Krebs is a political organizer and writer based in New York City. He is the founder of Living Liberally, a nationwide network of 250 local clubs that create social events around progressive politics, and author of "538 Ways to Live, Work and Play Like a Liberal."