Yes, Obama Turning Down Public Financing is Still an Epic Mistake

When I first suggested that Obama refusing public finance was a major strategic blunder, my claim was belied by the campaign's stronger than expected July fundraising. Since then, fundraising has risen to $66 million in August. We can expect it to be $80-$100 million in September and October. That seems to further justify the decision. Obama will have $160-$200 million to spend vs. McCain's $84 million. Clear cut, no?

Actually, no. And, per Marc Ambinder, the TNSMI/CMAG data on the latest campaign ad spending in swing states bear this out:

 

 

McCain

Obama

Colorado

$553,000

$522,000

Florida

$1,040,000

$1,327,000

Iowa

$352,000

$148,000

Indiana

None

$263,000

Michigan

$761,000

$954,000

Minnesota

$472,000

$18,000

Missouri

$353,000

$504,000

Montana

None

$37,000

North Carolina

$245,000

$300,000

North Dakota

<$1,000

$22,000

New Hampshire

$225,000

$172,000

New Mexico

$214,000

$155,000

Nevada

$365,000

$297,000

Ohio

$812,000

$801,000

Pennsylvania

$1,612,000

$948,000

Virginia

$312,000

$868,000

Wisconsin

$487,000

$432,000

Ambinder writes, "The campaigns are spending about $15m in ads per week; each is spending about $7.8 million." So, with an over 2-to-1 Obama spending advantage, McCain is keeping pace with Obama in ad spending.

How does he do it?

most of McCain's ads are paid for with both McCain campaign money and money from the RNC; 97% of Obama's ads are paid for by the candidate.

Therein lies the nub of the problem. McCain's $84 million in public finance is just the tip of the iceberg. The real action is at McCain-Palin Victory 2008, the joint fundraising committee that includes the RNC, state parties in Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, and Pennylvania, and McCain's GELAC (or compliance) committee. According to their website, Victory can raise up to $67,800 per donor (and presumably, up to $135,600 per couple).

Here is how the money gets divided up, according to their disclaimer:

    • For Individuals- The first $28,500 will go to the RNC, the next portion will be divided evenly between the Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, and Pennsylvania state parties' federal accounts up to a maximum of $9,250 for each Committee, and the final $2,300 will go to the Compliance Fund.

    • For Federal Multicandidate PACs- The first $15,000 will go to the RNC, the next portion will be divided evenly between the Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, and Pennsylvania state parties' federal accounts up to a maximum of $5,000 for each Committee, and the final $5,000 will go to the Compliance Fund.

Yes, Obama is theoretically capturing more money into his committee by going private, but at a massive opportunity cost. All of his fundraising energies from now until the election will be spent fundraising for an account with a $2,300 fundraising limit, vs. McCain and Palin, who will be fundraising for a committee with a $67,800 limit (and presumably, $135,400 for couples).

Obama has essentially turned down $84 million in free money in exchange for nothing, something encapsulated by the headline of this Politico story:

Cash-poor Obama says no to Reid

Earlier this month, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made a personal appeal to Barack Obama: Help me grow the Democrats’ Senate majority by sharing some of the $77 million you’ve got in the bank.

Obama’s campaign said no.

Cash poor? I thought they were rolling in it? Not when Obama's first priority is catching up to McCain's in-built fundraising $84 million advantage, and is competing against a McCain auxilitary that can raise $67,800 a pop.

Smartly, the McCain-Palin campaign has made donating to Victory feel like donating to the campaign. Its website has McCain-Palin in 150 point font, and Victory 2008 in 15 point font. If you go to JohnMcCain.com and click Contribute, you get a McCain-Palin branded Victory donation page.

What are the tradeoffs? Legally, Victory has to spend half its time talking about Republican candidates, not just McCain. From a GOTV perspective, this hardly matters. If you are turning out Republicans, you are turning out McCain people. Only the ads are a little awkward. Legally, they must attack obscure Congressional liberals as well as Obama:

But how bad is this really? A disporportionate amount of Republican energy from now till election day will go towards lifting the Republican tide generally, branding Congressional Democrats, and tearing down the Democrats generally. This will help bring Republican candidate performance in line with McCain (this is already happening) while hardly any national Democratic ads will say "vote Democratic for Congress." When a message is uncontested like this, watch for it to move the needle.

Meanwhile, the Obama campaign will have to spend all its time looking out for #1. Nothing for the DNC. Nothing for the D-Trip. Nothing for Chuckie.

Someone got screwed in this deal, and it wasn't the McCain campaign or the RNC.

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Comments

One of the things I noticed

One of the things I noticed at Sarah Palin's solo rally in Colorado was the way she roped in the local House member who had the Undercard at her rally. One of the things that I noticed is that the downticket people are being brought along wherever she is. I'm not sure that Bambi's people are doing the same.

Again, Obama's campaign is strikingly similar to Nixon's CREEP from 1972, which was a solo operation which left Republican House and Senate members all on their own. When Watergate exploded, Nixon found he had few allies to turn to because of what he had done in '72.

Got to take care of your downticket people. McCain and Palin know this. Obama apparently does not.  

Awesome, awesome, awesome

I haven't been to any rallies in California (when they do occur, they'll probably be in heavily populated Orange and L.A. Counties rather than Red County San Diego anyway, which are 70-100 miles and 2-4 hours each way in traffic), so it's awesome to know that our top of the ticket candidates are supporting the down ballot candidates as well.  Awesome, awesome, awesome.

That's why I get info from the web, not MSM

Interesting points!  I haven't seen the fact about Victory being an ancillary to the McCain-Palin fundraising.  Two points come to mind on this:

1.) The Obama campaign and their followers (MSM) are possibly basing their decisions on an incomplete picture which could hurt them

or 2.) This point is not being brought up by either campaign because it works to each's advantage.

Change America needs: Dump the Pelosi Democrat Congress!

But how bad is this really? A disporportionate amount of Republican energy from now till election day will go towards lifting the Republican tide generally, branding Congressional Democrats, and tearing down the Democrats generally.

 

It's all to the good in my book. I was afraid that the RNC helping McCain would 'defund' the Congressional efforts, but in fact this helps on the combined GOTV, is a more effective use of money since it targets areas and races that will be more influenced and it helps amplify what I think is a COMPLETE UPENDING OF THE OBAMA THEME BY TAKING "CHANGE" AND TURNING IT INTO AN ANTI-DEMOCRAT INCUMBENT CONGRESS THEME.

Let me go into this thought more. The tagline we need to use is something like this:

Change America needs: Dump the Pelosi/Reid Democrat Congress!

I like the fact that Dodd and Schumer are labelled 'more of the same', since it sends the message that the Democrats are responsible for status quo failures. What this does is leave Obama very vulnerable since HIS VERY OWN CHANGE MESSAGE IN EFFECT DRIVES VOTERS TO QUESTION THE DEMOCRAT CONGRESS IF THE DEMOCRATS ARE ASSOCIATED WITH THE STATUS QUO.   Yeah, he can run against Bush all day, but Bush is not on the ballot, and he has to spend a lot of money to push the ropey-dope line that McCain is Bush's stand-in. 

Yet, we have Congressional status quo incumbents who ARE on the ballot and the argument that the 'change' needed is in Congress is at least as compelling.

If all the GOP manages to do with this is ensure that 85%+ voters actually realize the Democrats have been running Congress (a shocking number of voters dont even know this), and get the abysmal Congressional ratings translated into a negative view specifically focussed on the Democrat majority leadership - it would easily be worth 5-10 pt swing in Congressional ballot, and latest generics had GOP down 6 or within striking distance of that magic number.

An ad on how bad the Democrat Congress is almost writes itself.  the GOP needs to do is add up all the incompetent and stupid things the Congress has done:

- tried to defund the surge

- tried to raise taxes about 15 times

- promised to end earmarks but then expanded them and passed billions in pork

- Their chief tax bill writer, Rep Charlie Rangel, now admits to 20 years of cheating on his taxes, and Democrats got millions from Fannie Mae and got cut-rate loans from mortgage lenders that went belly up (Countrywide)

- tried to triple welfare spending on SCHIP and refused reasonable compromise

-  refused to drill offshore, and still want to keep 90% of oil offlimits

... etc.   end with the tagline "CHANGE ... THE MAJORITY IN CONGRESS."

They should probably throw Pelosi up there as the poster child, she really is an incompetent and has good name ID... and have GOP challengers run against her.

Last point: Obama *IS* inexperienced and is a *ME FIRST* person. Both those factors led him to make his decision. I agree, one of MANY BAD CHOICES OBAMA HAS MADE. His bad decisions bode very ill for America if he becomes President.

 

Weak...

This only factors in television advertising. It doesn't factor in the money that the Obama campaign spends on their ground game offices and their paid staff, and on mailers. To this point, he has buried McCain in those two aspects, and that's only going to get worse. Read fivethirtyeight.com, and they tell you daily about ground game operations in battleground states. You're purposefully giving a slice of spending and not talking about the whole pie.

You also act like Obama is capped at 2300 per person. How does that explain that $28,500 price tag per plate for his Hollywood fundraiser, which raised money for him and the DNC? He raised over nine million that day. The DNC can use that to run cable ads against McCain without having to target obscure conservatives in Congress, while spending the other half on Congressional races. The RNC has basically put all their money in the McCain basket. As a result, Obama has more control over his message, and can do local issue spots more easily like Yucca Mountain in NV and FedEx in Ohio without having to mention other Republicans (other than Bush ;) ).

So while Obama may have to spend more time with individual fundraising than McCain, he will also be able to have more paid staff on the ground organizing his army of volunteers and getting his message out as a force multiplier, and the RNC can't really help McCain to respond in kind without scaling down TV advertising because McCain is capped at 84 mil for himself. And Obama also has been able to sit back and let the money roll in from the internet, while McCain has to funnel it through the RNC, and the law limits its use.

You think the group that outmaneuvered the Clinton campaign with delegate counts was going to make a process mistake for the general? Please. Organization and calculation is the strength of this group.

This is obfuscation pure and

This is obfuscation pure and simple. From a field perspective, it doesn't matter who is doing the GOTV, Obama or the DNC, or McCain or the RNC. The yard signs will still say Obama / McCain. The people making the phone calls will still be able to say Obama and Democrats / McCain and Republicans. It's a waste for the campaign to have to pay for purely logistical work out of hard dollars, when the only unique distinct advantage to campaign hard dollars over party dollars is candidate-specific advertising.

And the RNC is far outraising the DNC.

How things change...

Senator Obama raised $150 million in September alone and in this final stretch is almost certainly going to raise another $100+ million in October.  The Obama camp has more money than they couldn't possibly need, which is why they're putting ads in Chicago (!), video games, are buying 30 minute blocks on network television during prime time and even putting ads in states like Wyoming and South Carolina where they have no chance of winning.  I guess turning down public financing wasn't a bad idea.

All public people just do

All public people just do specify who owns the world's capital and manages the world. By Sergio