Re: McCain and Public Funding

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Ana’s post about McCain’s conundrum raises another issue: The current public financing system for presidential campaigns has become a joke. Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold has a plan he says will help fix it. (The companion measure in the House is sponsored by Martin Meehan, Christopher Shays and David Price.) However, anything that can be demagogued as “welfare for politicians” will have an uphill fight politically.

Feingold puts his finger on why the system is important, and why it no longer works:

From 1976 to 2004, the presidential public funding system produced competitive elections in which Republicans were elected five times and Democrats three times, while challengers managed to be victorious in three of the six elections in which the incumbent was a candidate. But the front-loading of decisive primaries, and the emergence of candidates able to raise money far in excess of the primary election spending limits, have exposed the weaknesses of the current system. The legislation improves the system by increasing matching funds, increasing spending limits for candidates who participate in the system, raising the amount individuals can contribute via the tax form check-off, among other provisions.

In this week’s magazine, by the way, I write about developments in fundraising that are increasing the importance and influence of small donors–and how they are one reason Barack Obama is leading the field in raising money:

No campaign has been more aggressive in tapping into social networks and leveraging the financial power of hundreds of thousands of small donors. Nor has any other campaign found such innovative ways to extend its reach by using the Internet–more than $10 million of Obama’s second-quarter contributions were made online, and 90% of them were in increments of $100 or less.