Thursday, June 19, 2008

Obama opts out of public campaign financing

Today, Senator Barack Obama opted out of public financing for his presidential campaign, becoming the first major party candidate to do so since the system was created in 1976. Oddly, I'm fine with this.

The public financing system limits the amount that a candidate can spend to spread his message, but it does nothing to stop advocacy groups from spending all sorts of money to promote their ideas and candidate, or from spending all kinds of money to disparage a candidate or someone else's ideas. Who can forget the Swift Boat Veterans for (their version of) Truth?

Because we live in what we should call the Swift Boat Vets era of campaigning and campaign financing, it is unrealistic for a candidate to limit himself to public financing and its restrictions. Political action committees, with their nudge-nudge, wink-wink relationships to major candidates, can attack from any angle, sometimes with devastating effectiveness. Campaign finance restrictions like those we have in place lead to a battle of the PACs, and the veneer-thin notion that our candidates (and their supporters) are not skirting the rules. It all appears just the tiniest bit dishonest. Just a tiny bit.

Frankly, I think that our campaigns need to borrow a page from the Securities and Exchange Act. Since the 1930s, if your company is selling stock, you need to make a book available to the public that describes everything your company is doing, has done, and will do. Everyone knows your business. We need to do the same for candidates. I don't care how much money a candidate gets, I just want to know how he got it, and who from. The FEC already keep this kind of information. Now, we need to make the candidates get pro-active and send this info out to whoever wants it.

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