The public financing system designed to clean up presidential campaigns in the wake of the Watergate scandal may have died on Saturday when Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) announced her bid for the White House.What is interesting of course is that by asking for $4,200, which will likely be upped by a couple of hundred dollars when the FEC adjusts limits for inflation later this month, Clinton is presuming she will win the nomination, not a foregone conclusion at all.
Little noticed amid the announcement rollout was a page on her Web site in which she asked potential contributors to give her campaign checks of up to $4,200. That figure signaled not only that she plans to forgo public funds for primary season but also that, if she becomes the nominee, she will not take public money for the general election.
But the ask does portend a decision to forgo all public funding. Even in the money raising hey day of 2004, both President Bush and Senator Kerry eschewed public funding in the primaries, but did take public funding for the General Election. Clinton seems to be indicating she will do neither.
Of course, public funding is limiting in many respects and choosing not to take public funding means that Clinton will not be limited by arcane rules and rediculously low limits on spending. But unlike the Watergate era, we the public will know who is funding her campaign because Presidential campaigns are required to file monthly reports with the FEC, a feature that came into existence with McCain Feingold.
Speaking of McCain, if he plans to make a real go of it, and wins the nomination, will he too forgo public funding?
Among the presidential candidates, McCain has long championed the importance of campaign finance laws. Yesterday, his spokesman, Danny Diaz, said the senator thinks the current public finance system "is not fulfilling its original goal" and is also contemplating opting out.What if he decides not to take public funds during the primary season but accept funds for the general election? Will he be painted as a hypocrite (something I have argued a couple of times about)? Will he be able to blast Clinton, should she win the Democratic nod, for not taking public money?
Of course, there remains the philosophical question of whether public funding for political campaigning is a good thing or not. I tend to think not, but there are reasonable arguments on the other side. Nevertheless, 2008 will be expensive, bloody and entertaining on the campaign finance side of things.