Through complex arguments, Obama and McCain duel on campaign finance

In a preview of what right now appears as the most probable general election match-up, Barack Obama and John McCain have been going back and forth in the past few days about campaign finance.

The GOP is criticizing Obama for fudging a pledge he supposedly made earlier this year to enter the public financing system if the Republican candidate does as well. Now that McCain is looking very interested to do just that but Obama has not yet reiterated that he then would for sure, Obama is being portrayed as a waverer. After all, many Democrats are logically reluctant to enter in public financing in the general election considering that they have a very rare advantage in campaign contribution. Used to being heavily outspent, it is Democrats have been crushing their Republican opponents in fundraising, and that disparity is especially striking in the case of McCain and Obama.

Obama's semi-pledged that is now being quoted is as follows: "If I am the Democratic nominee, I will aggressively pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee to preserve a publicly financed general election." No candidate uses this kind of careful construction if he is trying to take a pledge, and Obama can therefore hardly be accused of having broken one.

However, the question remains of how the Illinois Senator will be able to not reach such an agreement without looking bad, especially if McCain agrees to his conditions. (It is worth noting that this question presupposes that the Obama campaign is searching for a way out of this dilemma, when there is no indication that they are leaning for or against public financing). He could outline a set of conditions that would not be acceptable to McCain's camp, or he could simply say -- the earlier the better -- that he will not abide by public financing. He would get bad press for a few days, but this is not the kind of issue that has ever had any kind of resonance among voters. And Obama could offer some compelling reasons for having changed his mind, for example that the sudden surge of campaign contributions and of the number of small donors made him realize that it would not be fair to deprive these supporters of a chance to mobilize themselves.

It is also worth pointing out that it will ultimately not make a dramatic difference in the Democrats' money advantage, because the general election financing only kicks in after the party conventions so at the end of August for Dems and in early September for the GOP. Until then, Barack Obama will be able to use his large campaign coffers and probably enjoy a healthy financial advantage on the Arizona Senator.

The issue for Democrats here is McCain's image as a government reformer. Obama does not want to be stuck in a narrative in which the Arizona Senator is looking to run a clean process whereas Obama -- who typically emphasizes the need for a new politics -- is shying away from that. The GOP believes that it can use this topic as a first hit against Obama's image and install this issue in the campaign's narrative.

But McCain will have difficultly doing so now, because his own recent dealings with campaign finance are being more closely studied -- and are being shown to be very inconsistent. The Wall Street Journal fired one of the shots hitting McCain hard for crossing the ethical line when taking out his campaign loan in the fall.

But the main question mark around McCain is whether he committed himself to the public financing system for the primary (until September). Being forced to stay within limits until September would surely put the McCain campaign at a huge disadvantage. McCain applied and qualified for public financing a few months back but never used the funds, finally returning his certification on February 6th.

Now, a Washington Post article published yesterday casts doubt on whether McCain is allowed to do that! The WaPo writes that "McCain may have inadvertently committed himself to entering the public financing system for the remainder of the primary season by holding out the prospect of taking public matching funds in exchange for the $1 million loan in December."

In his summary of this complex matter, the American Prospect's Mark Schmitt writes:

It seems to be the consensus of experts that a candidate can drop out of the system, even after being certified to receive funds, as long as he or she hasn't used the certification as collateral for a loan. And McCain specifically excluded the prospect of public funds from the section on collateral for a loan he took out in November... But on Saturday, the Washington Post reported that there was a second loan for $1 million on December 17 that pledged "incoming contributions" as collateral but did not exclude public money.

The McCain campaign disputes that characterization, arguing that he only committed to use those funds as collateral if his campaign faltered and that he is thus in no way committed to public financing. The Washington Post article's is a must-read to understand what is going on here, and the question ultimately seems to be whether the McCain campaign used the FEC certification as a collateral or not.

At the end of the day, the FEC is unlikely to step in unless there is a very clear violation of rules, and there appears to be enough of a gray area here that McCain is unlikely to be forced into public financing for the primaries. But this new storyline cannot help the campaign's efforts to portray Obama as a waverer.



  • The Straight Talk express is losing its wheels, as Obama says. McCain's public financing game is shady, as everything else the man does.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 17 February, 2008 19:49  

  • The Obama campaign should do the most advantageous thing for their general election campaign. It doesn't matter what vague comments he made about public financing many months ago. Voters don't care about stuff like that. What I worry about is the unlimited money the 527's are going to use against him. He has to be able to have enough money to rebutt all of the negative sleaze that is coming his way.

    By Anonymous stone621, At 17 February, 2008 19:59  

  • Republicans don't use reason, nor do they question the allegations their leaders make. So by examining the charge closely and rationally debunking it, the end result only influences Democrats and like minded independents. The Republican leaning Obama supporters will be swayed by charges like this. He can steal a car and allege Obama is a car thief and the gullible right will smear Obama for months, if not years. It's nearly impossible to correct these smears with factual evidence. That's why Hillary can weather them more easily. So many have been made that they're now taken with a grain of salt. Barack is a whole new canvas for the right to sling mud at. I refer you to the "black baby" incident that was so effective against McCain. Truth never entered the picture. That's a reason many Democrats believe that Obama's Republican support will evaporate in November and we need to be sure he has solid Democratic support before nominating him. No Hillary supporter can be turned on scourilous charges like that.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 17 February, 2008 20:09  

  • "Republicans don't use reason, nor do they question the allegations their leaders make."

    By saying this, you have already removed the debate from the purview of reason and rationality, by proving yourself to be an unreasonable person and a non-critical thinker. I'll allow you to examine your own comments privately for the logical flaws in your argument, unless you would like me to air them in public.

    And Stone, if I were you, I wouldn't worry. Not only do BOTH sides have a plethora of 527s who just can't wait to start smearing the opposition's candidate, the Democrats are even getting a headstart, since McCain has been so quickly revealed as the GOP nominee.

    Further, saying that voters won't care about some particular issue is a non-starter. If this comment starts to get heavy play, we may all find that the voters care about it more than they have in the past. The American electorate has a history of being unpredicatable about what they'll dismiss and what they'll condemn, which is why most candidates throw whatever mud is at hand until something sticks.

    By Anonymous Mr. Rational, At 17 February, 2008 20:41  

  • So it has begun. This is priceless. The GOP soon will engage the slime machine on Saint Barack, and we will see how that turns out. I can hear the echoes of another McGovern disaster in the making. On top of that is nice to see the self righteous Obama groupies trying to twist and shake the fact that, my oh my, he says one thing, and then goes and do another. Surprise surprise!

    So Stone 621 says "It doesn't matter what vague comments he made about public financing many months ago." Let me see if I et this right...weren't you the same guy that has scorched Hillary for saying one thing and doing another, or being dishonest, or for triangulating? Well guess what, if Barack is to wing he will have to do some of that, perhaps all. But I don’t see your sense of outrage at the duplicity of the good senator from Illinois. And that is why, if he is nominated, when November comes around he will be 15% points behind McCain. Just remember president Dukakis, 27%points ahead of George HW Bush, this time, in 1988. That did not turn out that good, didn’t it!

    By Anonymous Robert_V, At 17 February, 2008 20:51  

  • Mr. Rational is not so rational. The debate of this is irrelevant and if you understood the post you'd know why. I guess you're not up to the critical analysis. Saddam/911 anyone?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 17 February, 2008 23:24  

  • On the contrary, anonymous irrational person. (I will assume you are the same one who left the earlier comment that began with the quite frankly ridiculous line I've already dismissed.) The post said Obama might find himself in trouble if people perceive him as wavering on a "pledge" for a publicly financed campaign--and also covered why McCain might not be able to pursue that argument with vigor. Your response said that Obama Republicans will abandon him as soon as the GOP attack machine starts up, because they're all mindless dittoheads anyway, and consequentially seemed to imply a support for Hillary because she's already been through that "scourilous" fire. It's spelled "scurrilous," by the way, as a trip to the dictionary will tell you.

    I was pointing out that by starting your comment with the assertion "Republicans don't use reason," which is prima facie a ludicrous stereotype, you damage the rest of your argument and take the entire line of conversation off into the realm of ad populum attacks. Why? Because if there are some GOP members out there who are reasonable people, and who like Obama based on that reason, then they wouldn't abandon him and your argument would fail. Get it now?

    (It is also ludicrous to imply, as you clearly do, that all Democrats and left-leaning independents are thoroughly reasonable people. Nutcases and nitwits find homes on both sides of the political spectrum, as do reasonable and thoughtful people. If I had to guess, I'd say your view of things is pretty black-and-white, while by contrast I've noticed quite a few shades of gray in the world.)

    Finally, regarding your last insult, are you sure I'm a Republican? Assuming I am, are you sure I supported the Iraq War at all? Assuming I did, are you sure I did so due to the belief that Saddam Hussein was somehow linked to the 9/11 attacks? All of these things would have to be true in order for your little barb to sting. (Well, really only the last two, but I think the first is implied in your thought pattern.) Fortunately, at least one of them is definitely false, leaving me to enjoy a good laugh at your expense.

    By Anonymous Mr. Rational, At 18 February, 2008 00:27  

  • I never said on this post that Sen Clinton is dishonest, said one thing and did another, or accursed her of triangulating. I simply do not believe that she is the best candiate in this election cycle. If Clinton is elected I truly believe that this war will go on for another 5 years or more. Given a choice between her or McCain, I would vote for Clinton. I just think Obama would be a better choice to go forward and make a clean break with the past.

    By Anonymous stone621, At 18 February, 2008 01:26  

  • Please Mr. Rational, continue your inferiority complex. Republicans on the whole are not reasonable people. They do not use reason, rather emotion much the way you're doing. Polls show that the remaining republicans(25% of the electorate or less) still support the war and overwhelmingly believe that there was a connection between Bin Laden and Saddam. Since Obama is courting individuals of that persuasion,it is certainly reasonable that they would be susceptable to this type of unfounded allegations. The republican party has no such thing as intelligent supporters. If you are insulted by that,too bad. Get used to it. If you think this issue even deserves debate,you must be one of those of lesser intellect that doesn't distinguish between apples and oranges. I think you must not realize that it is "ludicrous" for people to believe in silly superstitions like religion. A political party that is based on mentally deficient individuals is simply laughable. As is your argument.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 18 February, 2008 09:52  

  • 25% of the electorate or less? Where do you get your figures? (Did you look on Wikipedia and find that USA today article from four years ago, which makes scant mention of its methodology and only "extrapolates" voter registration from 20 of the 50 states? Yeah, I thought so.) I did notice you at least modified your statement to say that Republicans weren't reasonable "on the whole," which is--though still wrong--a more defensible position. Forgot that modifier the first time around, didn't you? Good. You're learning.

    Further, where is your evidence that Obama draws any of his GOP supporters largely from those people who still believe there was a connection between Saddam and 9/11? Wouldn't those people listen to Obama's positions on the war and decide that in the interests of national security, they shouldn't vote for him? Oh, of course. Because Republicans "overwhelmingly" believe that connection to be true, where else could he draw his GOP support from, is that it? It's not like he might draw his support from the party members who DON'T believe in the connection.

    Then again, why am I bothering? You continue to make easily disprovable blanket statements ("The republican party [sic, no capitalization] has no such thing as intelligent supporters"). All I have to do to prove you wrong is find an intelligent Republican, which I assure you is not a difficult prospect. Nor would it be hard for me to find an intelligent Democrat to disprove your comparably asinine conservative soul-brethren. (Assuming you are in fact a Democrat, though, I'll refrain from pointing them in your direction. You wouldn't exactly make my case for me.)

    You also continue to make unwarranted assumptions about me. Where did I say I believed in any god, or held any faith whatsoever? Oh, right, Republicans are religious, so I must be too. But then again, I might not even be a Republican. How do you know? Have you seen my voter registration card? Isn't it plausible that I'm an independent, or maybe even a moderate Democrat? But no, that wouldn't fit your worldview. All I did was tell you that you're wrong in stereotyping a whole group of people based on some of their members, which is indeed a logical fallacy (Hasty Generalization--look it up), and on that basis you conclude I must be some aggrieved member of the group you slighted, bent on revenge-by-blog-posts. How dull.

    Don't worry...you're not insulting me. You're just amusing me. I think it's cute that you feel free to offer critiques on my arguments when yours have several obvious fallacies. To paraphrase a passage from a religious work with which you may or may not be familiar, consider the beam in your own eye before you go after any motes in mine. My favorite line in your post is when you assert I "must be one of those lesser intellect [sic]"...you did notice you forgot to make "intellect" plural, right? Feel a bit ridiculous now?

    In summation, even if I did have an inferiority complex, which again is quite an assumption (I wasn't even aware I had psychiatric records, much less an official diagnosis of a disorder), I assure you it wouldn't be very hard to feel superior to you. Normally, I would have quit this discussion by now. But I'm feeling generous, and you're giving me laughs like I haven't had in quite some time. So feel free to step up again if you want to continue your education.

    By Anonymous Mr. Rational, At 18 February, 2008 14:18  

  • Mr. Rational why are you wasting your time with that fello? I do not agree with your politics often, but you do have point and counterpoint and know how to fram an argument. That fello is all over the place with nonsensical drivel picke up from the Air America gas bags, a bunch almost as despicable as the right wing gas bags!!! You are wasting your time, is like arguiung with a drunk, but without the unplesant smell....maybe.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 18 February, 2008 16:16  

  • Oh, I don't know. If you're having fun, is time ever truly wasted? :)

    By Anonymous Mr. Rational, At 18 February, 2008 17:12  

  • Mr Irrational should rename himself Mr. Irritable. Talk about hasty assumptions. Not all idiots are republicans (not worthy of capitalization), but all republicans are surely idiots. Anyone with an IQ over 140 (which is now the average for video game playing third graders and the cut-off for indoctrination into religion) knows that party is now made up of complete fools. Your diagnosis of an inferiority complex is evidenced by you rants here under a psuedonym that you hardly live up to.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 18 February, 2008 17:17  

  • CNN has reported many times this past few months that the current slice of the electorate that calls themselves repugnant ones is less than 25%.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 18 February, 2008 17:21  

  • Mr. (Ir)rational is obviously not the sharpest tool in the shed. The humor went sailing over his head.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 18 February, 2008 17:52  

  • "one of those of lesser intellect" is correct. One of those of lesser intellects would imply schizophrenia. Sorry, but I'm laughing at you. If you had gotten the jokes earlier I'd be laughing with you.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 18 February, 2008 18:09  

  • As far as controversy goes this is rather tame. I can't believe the mainstream media has been so eager to eat up the Hillary camp's spin against Obama regarding financing.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 19 February, 2008 15:14  

  • This has nothing to do with taking down a Democrat. It's all just mis-direction by McCain to cover for his own screw up. A pre-emptive move in defense. That's why it seems so lame. Look at Barack,not at me.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 19 February, 2008 17:55  

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