30 Issues: Campaign Finance

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The presidential election series continues with a comprehensive look at campaign finance. Massie Ritsch, communications director for the Center for Responsive Politics and Peter Overby, the Power, Money & Influence correspondent for National Public Radio, explain McCain's and Obama's approach to campaign finance issues, and the impact of money-raising on the electoral process.

Brad Smith, chairman of the Center for Competitive Politics and a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission gives his take.

Meredith McGehee policy director at the Campaign Legal Center shares her thoughts on campaign finance.


Meredith McGehee, Peter Overby, Massie Ritsch and Brad Smith

Comments [55]

RCT from Chappaqua

Eva, Google "Obama Illinois Senate Record," and you'll find it right away.

Sep. 24 2008 03:02 AM
etc at Fierce and Nerdy from Los Angeles

Monique King-Viehland actually just did a great post about this over at Fierce and Nerdy. She basically says that given the spending climate, Obama had no choice but NOT to accept public financing. She explains why here:


Sep. 23 2008 03:02 PM

Sorry, but would you mind tiny-url-ing that, because I can't get the link to work.

Sep. 23 2008 12:41 PM
O from Forest Hills

I second Karen from Manhattan! I am a Paralegal and I deal with facts as well.

Obama 2008!

Sep. 23 2008 12:26 PM
Karen from Manhattan

The Republicans attempt to characterize Obama' supporters as "naive." As attorney who has been in practice for 18 years, and a college teacher who has taught at Columbia (during my Ph.D. program), Barnard & CUNY, I deal in facts, not lies, insults and smears.

Below is a link to a NYT article and chart, published in July 2007, detailing Obama's record in the Illinois Senate, where he cosponsored over 833 legislative bills on a broad range of issues, including health care, the environment, prisoner's rights, housing and gun control. Obama is no neophyte; he has spent 20 years in public service and, as a state senator for a large district in the fifth most populous state in the union, has a solid record of achievement that is being obscured by lies such as those told here by "Inquiring Mind." ("Closed Mind And No Ethical Compass" would be a better handle for this particular poster.)

Sep. 23 2008 12:22 PM
Ivana from Yorkville

For that matter, where's the democracy on WNYC? I haven't heard Ralph Nader on your show or your station lately. Or any of the third party candidates for that matter.

Nader has always spoken out against deregulation and predicted this financial crisis many years ago. See Chris Hedges on TruthDig for a very insightful article.

Sep. 23 2008 12:03 PM
O from Forest Hills

Money is also not an equalizer because there are many talented people whom don't have money but are very smart and don't have the resources to get to the top schools and into the top jobs to use their talents.

Sep. 23 2008 12:02 PM
shc from Manhattan

Money is not an equalizer - there are people who are smarter, more passionate, or whatever the qualifier might be who have less money than affluent, indifferent citizens who care nothing more than keeping their taxes low. It's frustrating and demeaning to say that money is a primary form of free speech when so many have such a hard time getting their hands on it.

Sep. 23 2008 12:00 PM
Tony from Brooklyn

Inquiring Minds,
Barack Obama was a teenager when Professor Ayers was charged with criminal offenses. I'm not quite sure how his lobbying on his behalf at the time would have influenced the proceedings. However McCain's conduct in the Keating Five scandal is generally accepted as unethical at best.
Equating the Keating Five with Obama's relationships Rezko, Ayers et al. is disingenuous and desperate. I think the fact that John McCain is married to a drug addict who stole from a charity and probably would have done prison time had she not been married to a senator is a far more relevant indicator of the candidate's character. But I won't raise that issue because in the grand scheme of things it's not as big a deal as him being censured for trying to wield influence on behalf of criminals.

Sep. 23 2008 11:57 AM
Graham from Paris

The discussion--so far as I've been able to listen--seems to presuppose that the United States' political system is a democratic one in some sense.

My own view is that belief is utterly false not just in a figurative sense but in EVERY sense both literal and figurative. For some time now, and more than ever since the advent of the Bush/Cheney administrations, the U.S. have _nothing_, but NOTHING meaningful to do with "democratic" governance.

Sep. 23 2008 11:55 AM
O from Forest Hills

money makes the political world go around but cow poop greases the axle.

Sep. 23 2008 11:54 AM
Rev. Dennis Maher from Baldwin NY

Brad's is the argument of Mitch McConnell. Those with the most money should have the greatest voice. Money rules. One way around this other than direct reform of funding would be to limit the time frame of the election as in Britain.

Sep. 23 2008 11:52 AM
Tom from Manhattan

What kind of democracy would we have if we didn't have so much campaign spending? We'd have a truer democracy, like that of all other democracies in the free world. No other country spends even half as much money per ballot as the US does.

Sep. 23 2008 11:52 AM
John from New York, New York

Does your guest right now sincerely believe that the First Amendment was drafted to protect corporate interests?

Sep. 23 2008 11:49 AM
Darren from Lefferts Gardens

It would leave out Obama. Which makes him either incredibly aware or incredibly lucky to have the view that "this campaign is not about him - its about you." Quite a slogan (hear: radiohead), but it shows something; even if superficially. It is the complete idea of the Obama candidacy which - at least from the standpoint of argument - gets him out of the same level of culpability for working the system. It's why he allows people to say he 'transcends' race.

In other words, we agree Karen. My point is that we have to stop believing in a separate political currency - its just the same money. All of it is 'exchange value'.

Sep. 23 2008 11:49 AM
O from Forest Hills

Good one Brian!

Exactly, it is about substantive differences!

Sep. 23 2008 11:48 AM
Ellen from Scotland

would deregulation allow for compensation for slander or harm caused by racial slurs?

Sep. 23 2008 11:48 AM
RJ from Brooklyn

What we want is for *all* political speech to get free air/broadcast/print time--**equal** free time, so that money does not control any form of political speech.

Sep. 23 2008 11:48 AM
sunday from new york

what kind of democracy do we have when it is clear that money does indeed run it all? why do these politicians need SO MUCH money to run for office? that is ridiculous! how about all those contributions from wall street instead of being pumped into campaigns could be put to use bailing out banks for instance... more taxation to pay for all these things which do not benefit me & which i do not agree with... hmmm... what kind of democracy do we have indeed...

Sep. 23 2008 11:48 AM
Eric from B'klyn

I believe that our Election system is badly in need of reform... the direct Popular Vote issue, corporate Money, unified national rules, day of registration, length of campaigns. A candidate used to run for a year or so now it is 2 years or so... we've gotten to a point that governing is an afterthought, and fundraising is the primary job of our elected officials. For instance, how much time in a given day does a Senator spend on the People's business versus the amount of time spent soliciting donations,

Sep. 23 2008 11:48 AM
Robert from NYC

Money is not speech and that's the problem. Money is in the hands of a few and if the money pays to get the politician in office then Democracy, i.e., will of the majority, is out the window, rather rule of the few, i.e., by money and not the will of the majority has won.

Sep. 23 2008 11:47 AM
Inquiring Minds

"Rezko became Obama's political patron. Obama got his first campaign contributions on July 31, 1995: $300 from a Loop lawyer, a $5,000 loan from a car dealer, and $2,000 from two food companies owned by Rezko."

Obama and his Rezko ties,CST-NWS-rez23.article

Sep. 23 2008 11:47 AM
money bags

But we place individuals at the top of Freddie Mac! We, every person is bailing them out. Can we remember how much money these ceo's are getting? why is this ok? how about revolution as democracy. we as individuals are working to get these guys rich and then what? there is no equality, there is no democracy in this country, it is a joke. the people with the money are the ones who speak and that is trumping the power of voting because we as voters lose power if lobbyists trump our choices.

Sep. 23 2008 11:47 AM
O from Forest Hills

Brad Smith is a Republican talking in the code.

No regulation, let the candidates put their money where they want.

Sure, so the Republicans and the corporations can dominate the market with the Republicans and keep us down.

No way! What kind of a candidate wants no outside groups. He is talking in the code about Obama.

Sep. 23 2008 11:45 AM
Tony from San Jose, CA

oops, 24th.

Sep. 23 2008 11:45 AM
money bags

i mean democracy becomes equated with how much money you have. what kind of democracy IS that? Brian please ask him.

Sep. 23 2008 11:44 AM
Tony from San Jose, CA

But isn't having only groups/people with money directing policies isn't a form of poll-tax?

And the 26th is as important as the 1st.

Sep. 23 2008 11:43 AM
Tony from Brooklyn

Yeah, Karen. That was my point. However McCain was censured by the Senate for his work on behalf of convicted felons who stole from (in the vernacular of the political discourse) ''hard working americans."

Sep. 23 2008 11:43 AM
Inquiring Minds


" Obama represented a black district in Chicago and, as his record demonstrates, voted in the interests of his working and lower-middle class constituents. His contributions prior to the run for the U.S. Senate came primarily from local interests, public financing and small donors. "

This is dangerously naive.

Research Ayers (the terrorist), Rezko (the felon), and the rest of the rogues gallery behind Obama's careerism.

And, what did Obama actually accomplish in Chicago other than a now uninhabitable housing project?

Sep. 23 2008 11:43 AM

That's why you don't hear much about Rezko anymore, but I guess McCain's campaign is feeling increasingly desperate.
I'm not as optimistic as I should be looking at the poll numbers. I still think there's a lot of time for McCain's group to try to slime Obama. And wasn't the bin Laden video released in 2004 just before the election?

Sep. 23 2008 11:43 AM
Ellen from Scotland

but no regulations would mean only those with the most money would have a voice -

what about giving an equal voice to those with less

Sep. 23 2008 11:41 AM
Karen from Manhattan


The Rezco connection was investigated years ago by the U.S. Attorney's office, and Obama was found to have committed no criminal or ethical (or the Illinois Bar would have become involved) offense.

The Republican insinuations to the contrary are completely, purely, entirely cow poopy.

Sep. 23 2008 11:39 AM
Tony from Brooklyn

We've had an entire conversation about the presidential candidates being influenced by relationships and money and not once has someone raised the issue of the Keating Five. How can that be?
There's conjecture, and there's history. I tend to believe that past actions predict future actions.
Until someone can prove that Barack Obama proactively lobbied on behalf of Tony Rezko, then historically he's the more ethical of the two candidates in this regard.

Sep. 23 2008 11:37 AM
Karen from Manhattan

Dear Darren,

But to Gramsci, no one but an "organic" intellectual can defeat corporate interests and their political tools. That would probably leave out Obama, who has attended elite schools and participated in mainstream politics. Gramsci or no Gramsci, I absolutely believe that Barack Obama is no John McCain, and that the fact that his contributions come mostly from "the bottom up" justifies his classification as a representative of blue-collar and lower middle-class interests.

Sep. 23 2008 11:37 AM
Alex from brooklyn

All the money from a company or sector is NOT a "bundle" of money. Equating the two is hugely misleading.

For example, look at the Fannie/Freddie contributions. Obama got more from official employees, yes. But McCain got even more the companies' lobbiest and members of their Boards ($169,000 vs. $16,000).

Still not bundles. They could all be individual donation.

Because no single person can give more than $2300, individual donors are not supposed to have very much influence. ($2300 is just a drop in the bucket, after all.) But bundlers -- those who get many others to donate together -- can claim responsibility for far more money.

My wife works in law and I work in education. But our donations were no bundled. Our money did not add to anyone's influence with the Obama campaign.

Sep. 23 2008 11:34 AM
Darren from Lefferts Gardens

Thanks for reading the comment!

It's as simple as this: We are watching wealth and power reproduce - it's called hegemony (see Gramsci). How many poor candidates have we had?

Sep. 23 2008 11:32 AM
Karen from Manhattan

Yes -- as per your comment -- I'm an attorney for a firm that represents tort claimants. Does that mean that my contributions, which include a required i.d. of my firm, are classified as coming from the trial lawyers' bar?

The truth is that my boss is a Republican, while I am a third-generation Democrat whose parents were not high school graduates. I became a plaintiffs' lawyer because I am a Democrat, not a Democrat because I wanted to promote my or my firm's financial interests. I think that the classification system is skewed by the disclosure requirements.

Sep. 23 2008 11:32 AM
Ellen from Scotland

Secret Money - would be great if the disclosures weren't only available to those intellectually active enough to go and read. The point of the ads is to convey images that muddy the truth in a 30 second sound bite. Secret Money's finding will only reach the "elite" - preaching to the choir. How can you make information available through a medium that "average Americans" will get.

Sep. 23 2008 11:32 AM
Robert from NYC

Nancy is giving to Obama but NOT to Mc Cain and she's sincere in her preference for who she wants. But others who give to both candidates are the ones who are looking for the favors. They are covering their a**es for whoever wins. These are the folks who have an agenda.

Sep. 23 2008 11:31 AM
Karen from Manhattan

It's ludicrous to compare Obama unfavorably to McCain on this issue. McCain has been deeply entangled in lobby money and corporate welfare for the past 30 years. Obama represented a black district in Chicago and, as his record demonstrates, voted in the interests of his working and lower-middle class constituents. His contributions prior to the run for the U.S. Senate came primarily from local interests, public financing and small donors.

All of the smears above have been disproved, as can be demonstrated by a quick trip to The Republicans are trying to inflate the irrelevant into the material in an effort to conceal and confuse the record concerning McCain's history and identity. While he may have occasionally crossed the aisle to vote with the Democrats, McCain has always been a conservative Republican serving rich private interests.

Sep. 23 2008 11:28 AM
Inquiring Minds


While you "tire" of it, I don't.

Do you think it is coincidental that:
Eastern seaboard Senators and Congressmen
almost exclusively Democrats
failed at the oversight of Fannie and Freddie and often BLOCKED it?

like, Barney Frank, Fannie's "Patron Saint"

Everyone in NYC loved the corrupt banking system as everyone -- down to the lowly bartender pouring your drink, or the taxi driver -- benefited from the largess!

People vote their self interest.

Sep. 23 2008 11:28 AM
AWM from UWS

Or like:




Timmons Sr.

He didn't accept public financing because it would have put him at a disadvantage, like aspects of McCain's tenure as senator that McCain now rejects... along with his own party and its ideology.

By the way, anyone who reads Obama's race speech and comes away with the idea that he "threw his grandma under the bus" is remarkably lost.

Sep. 23 2008 11:26 AM

If a WNYC producer makes a contribution to candidate X, it is considered a "contribution from the media sector." If the secretary at Goldman Sachs makes a donation to Obama, it's considered a donation from the FIRE sector. People who are in the trenches of finance and see and understand the complex challenges that the Bush regime will leave for the next president are merely voting for the candidate they feel is best.
The idea that Obama is taking large sums of money from "the industry" as opposed to having a large base of support from people who work in that industry is a distinction that should be made. It isn't a collective effort on the part of an industry to influence the election. It happens that a large segment of Obama's financial supporters work in this industry. There's a difference.
These people would be likely to support Obama anyway. They're largely educated, coastal, forward thinking individuals who don't think eating arugula makes you a communist.

Sep. 23 2008 11:25 AM

Building off of Nancy's comment, when you discuss the number of employees from particular companies or industries that contribute, is it obvious that this amount was bundled? Is it not possible that certain industries because employees have more money that if a large percentage donate it looks like they are the biggest contributors?

I guess it is a long winded way of it always obvious that people are trying to buy influence?

Sep. 23 2008 11:24 AM
Karen from Manhattan

I am an unpaid, weekend Obama volunteer and spent last Saturday canvassing for Obama in a blue-collar neighborhood in Scranton, PA. People there are deeply concerned about the economy. They associate McCain with lobbyists and rich corporate interests. Rightly or wrongly, Obama is regarded as having run a campaign funded mainly by small contributions. Their concerns regarding Obama center on his so-called lack of "experience" (not true) and, to a much lesser degree, national security.

The economy will be the issue on which this election turns and I think that, on that one, Obama "wins."

Sep. 23 2008 11:22 AM
Yolanda from Park Slope

McCain's History with regard to financial institutions: Keating Five & Deregulation, deregulation, deregulation.

If you mention Rezko, then you open the door very wide to Keating!

Sep. 23 2008 11:21 AM
Ellen Proskauer from NY/Scotland

I'd like to see ads regulated for truth. Basic truth. Each ad aired should have to be viewed by a bipartisan committee and approved by them.

Sep. 23 2008 11:20 AM
Nancy from Little Silver, NJ

I'm tired of this idea that contributions from a "sector" create some sort of indebtedness. My husband works for a financial company, and we have the resources to make a substantial contribution to Obama. We support Obama. We aren't buying influence for the financial sector. What are we supposed to do, not give money because our money comes from the financial industry?

Sep. 23 2008 11:19 AM
KC from NYC

Oh, Phil. McCain will "stand up" to his donors? Explain exactly what would motivate him to do that? This guy still wants Gramm as Treasury Secretary. Wake up.

Sep. 23 2008 11:18 AM
Inquiring Minds

Top Recipients of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac
Campaign Contributions, 1989-2008

1. Dodd, Christopher J $133,900

2. Kerry, John $111,000

3. Obama, Barack $105,849


Sep. 23 2008 11:17 AM
Darren from Lefferts Gardens

It's amazing that people rarely consider the depth of obligation which these kinds of relationships demand. It's pretty hard for most of us to grasp how an $11 million dollar 'gift' creates that familiar sense of 'owing someone in return.'

The amazing thing is that we continue to 'hope' that the differences between these two men will overwhelm the incredible ground they share on the 'unfettered' market.

That said, I'm still voting for Obama. Full disclosure.

Sep. 23 2008 11:14 AM
Inquiring Minds

"Mr Obama becomes the first presidential candidate not to use the public financing system for a general election since campaign finance laws were overhauled following the Watergate scandal of 1974."

Pragmatic for sure, just like:

that is the point.

Sep. 23 2008 11:12 AM
shc from Manhattan

Is it accurate to say that bundlers are essentially glorified footmen, doing the work of each candidate on behalf of each candidate? Would the controversy be lessened if the donations were made anonymously? Although I guess then the donors would be less inclined to make those donations.

Sep. 23 2008 11:11 AM
AWM from UWS

"What motivated Obama to break his promise to use public financing for his campaign?"

Pragmatism and common sense.

And he didn't "promise" anything.

Sep. 23 2008 11:05 AM
Inquiring Minds

What motivated Obama to break his promise to use public financing for his campaign?

Is there any promise he won't break -- or person he won't "throw under the bus" -- in his messianic quest to be POTUS?

Sep. 23 2008 10:18 AM

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