During last night’s debate, John McCain attacked Barack
Obama for abandoning his pledge to accept public funding for the general
election if his opponent did so. While we wish Obama had opted in to the public
system, it’s also worth noting that McCain left out a few inconvenient truths
about his on-the-side fundraising.
When McCain accepted an $85 million public funding grant, he agreed to stop
raising money except for modest amounts to pay for book-keeping. But McCain
kept raising big money. The only difference was that he focused his effort
entirely on raising checks for special "joint fundraising
committees," which funnel most of the money they receive to the Republican
Party. Lax campaign finance rules are allowing McCain to rake in contributions
of up to $67,800 for these committees (slightly down from $70,100 while his
official committee was still in business). That’s nearly 30 times the
maximum that Obama’s campaign committee can receive.
Last night, about the same time McCain attacked Obama for his fundraising, 10 of
the Arizona senator’s joint committees reported that they have raised $87 million since the beginning of July, bringing their total to $150 million.
McCain’s methods are technically legal, and indeed Obama has mimicked them by
setting up a committee in his name to raise money for the Democratic Party. But
aside from circumventing the public funding agreement, they defeat the overall
campaign finance system’s goal of prohibiting large contributions directly to
politicians. The system permits larger contributions to party committees to
facilitate party building. But by personally raising money for these committees
so close to an election, McCain and Obama have erased the line separating party