There has been much controversy about Barack Obama's refusal of public funds for his campaign. Public funds come with Federal spending limits of $84million and Obama's phenomenal fundraising power dictates that he would be foregoing serious campaign capital if he accepted them. Obama's campaign had raised $265million by the end of April from a mind-blowing 1.4million donors.
Many see Obama's refusal as a betrayal. That is an overly harsh assessment. The point about Obama's fundraising is that it is fuelled by millions of small donations rather than heavy fundraising from a limited number of sources. What this means in practice is that his campaign finance doesn't come with a political price tag unlike a candidate who is heavily financed by lobbyists, corporate interests, wealthy donors, and Political Action Committees. The more than 1million donors to his primary campaign are engaging in an active and constructive way with the democratic process and that is ultimately very different to the corrosive chicken dinner and K Street deal mode of raising campaign finance of the past.
John McCain will accept public finding and the $84million spending limit. He is no angel on this either. He declined Federal matched funds for his primary campaign (which come with a $50million or so spending limit) having said that he would apply for them. Expediency cuts across the political spectrum. Moreover, the $84million spending limit only applies once he is officially the candidate come September. He can raise and spend money with impunity until then and he will.
Now, what is Senator Obama going to use this massive pool of campaign cash for? This is where things get really interesting. An interview with Obama's Deputy Campaign Manager, Steve Hildebrand, reported on www.politico.com, reveals that the strategy is to focus resources on fourteen states that George Bush won in 2004. He will defend the previous blue (Democratic) states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Alongside that, he will make a play for fourteen of 2004's red states: Iowa, New Mexico, Ohio, Nevada, Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Virginia, North Carolina, Montana, North Dakota, Indiana, Georgia and Alaska. He will also try to pick up some votes in Nebraska where electoral votes are distributed in accordance with congressional district votes. At the very least, this focus of resources will turn John McCain on his heels- they can't afford to suppose that all this is just an elaborate Obama bluff.
Even more interestingly, Obama is going to target certain congressional districts in the hope of shoring up Democratic dominance in the House of Representatives by winning seats in places such as Wyoming. He will also look to win the Texas state Legislature ahead of congressional re-districting in 2010.
Essentially, the Obama campaign strategy is tremendously ambitious and well-resourced. It is worth contemplating when feeling a bit squeamish about his eschewing of public funds that this is built on the largest pool of donors ever amassed which enable the most ambitious electoral strategy ever. If it works, this strategy will secure the Presidency, Congress, and build the foundations of a Democratic epoch.