Publicly financing the race for the Presidency is not exactly a novel idea. Public money has been available to candidates for over 30 years. Today, however, many talk about publicly financed campaigns like they are relics of a lost age of politics. Both sides of the aisle shout down at lobbyists and their influence on Capital Hill, yet little has changed. In the last month Barack Obama has been the one trying to do something more than just pledge to reform the system.
Campaign finance reform was for many years a topic of discussion and debate. It was yet another topic that every candidate could tout in public, but could brush aside for more pressing issues once elected. The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 tried to create change, but it only rearranged the loopholes. Recently Senator Obama requested an opinion from the FEC regarding the possibility of garnering private donations for a potential general election run, and later returning them. It seems he would like to return all privately collected donations and run his campaign solely funded by public financing, if his opponent would do the same.
400 million dollars, that is roughly the difference between public and private financing for each general election Presidential candidate. Many forecasters are predicting expenditures of over 500 million dollars per candidate, should they choose to finance their campaigns privately. What does this mean to the electorate? It means that candidates can inundate us with ads, flyers and other mass marketing propaganda. Rather than taking a close look at what they’ve done and stood for, they can make us look at the image candidates are trying to portray.
Why is Obama doing this? He is keen enough to understand that running a campaign via public funds is impossible if his opponent has 6 times the finances. Knowing this, he is still idealistic enough to believe that he can win a race without unlimited financing. A race with equal, and relatively limited, financing forces American’s to look at issues, rather than commercials.
A campaign financed purely by public money would be a true test for voters. Could we see issues for what they are, dismissing claims that we know to be false? We seem to be so accustomed to voting on what we hear most often that I am not sure American’s could pass such a test. It is refreshing, however, to hear a candidate who is not only for real reform in campaign finance, but actually taking steps to prove it. John McCain has said he would be willing to follow suit, and we can only hope other candidates will do the same.
The President needs to be someone willing to take the first step, walking towards real change. Barack Obama is showing us he can walk the walk of a President.