If you live in one of those so-called presidential battleground states the chances are about the only political sound you hear regularly is Sen. Barack Obama telling of his childhood love of America or of his plans to sort out the mess with the economy and revolutionize health care, or delivering a half dozen other different messages mainly knocking Sen. John McCain who seems almost to be stricken by laryngitis.
It isn’t that McCain has lost his voice. It’s just that Obama’s has effectively drowned it out.
The reason for this is money, semi trailers full of it for Obama from private donors that have created a huge imbalance in the spending ability of the two campaigns for the presidency. While McCain managed to regain some of that voice with a decent showing in the final debate, his ability to sustain his message has been overwhelmed by the Democratic nominee, who has launched the most massive television advertising drive in political history.
In many areas Obama’s commercials saturate the market, outnumbering McCain’s by at least 8-1 and leaving viewers with the impression that there really is only one candidate in this race. This city’s broadcast stations are a good example. Because they reach vote-heavy Northern Virginia, a key battleground area, the Obama ads roll out almost endlessly during prime time viewing hours, day after day.
Now it should be clear to even the most politically naove just why the Illinois lawmaker decided to opt out of public financing despite an early pledge not to, a fact McCain effectively pointed out in the final debate. While McCain has had to settle for the public system ceiling of $84 million and help from the Republican National Committee, which can advertise in his behalf, Obama collected a startling $150 million in September alone and $67 million in the previous month. He has raised a whopping $600 million plus so far.
The donations, big and small, have so deluged the Democratic candidate’s financial machinery that those counting it obviously have little idea where it actually came from and probably don’t care much. Of course, this leaves an impression of impropriety and even creates concerns that there could be wholesale fraud involved. The outclassed Republicans are contending just that, citing phony donors and unexplained credit card charges as examples.
Confusing the problem is the fact that anyone who donates less than $200 does not have to be identified under Federal Election Commission rules, a huge loophole in accountability. Because tens of thousands of Obama donations allegedly fall under that amount, it will be difficult to track the sources of donations.
Is this gigantic disparity in funds healthy? Clearly not and it was just for that reason that public financing was instituted in the first place, to bring some sanity back into the cost of campaigning for president and to make sure from that standpoint at least the playing field was level. Obama’s decision not to accept the policy on grounds it was distorted by contributions from groups outside federal control was just so much hooey.
The result is likely to be that his enormous success with private fund raising will lead to more candidates doing the same in the future, completely undercutting the public financing concept.
The real tragedy here is that in every election the cost of winning goes up. In the current race, both in the presidential primaries and now the general campaign, the total spending is estimated at nearly $2 billion. It’s likely to get worse before it gets better.
It is clear now that McCain has little chance of overcoming Obama’s 10-point lead in the polls. His last hope of capitalizing on a forceful debate effort to separate himself from the unpopular President Bush and to convince voters he will take the nation in a new direction — always a long shot anyway — has been submerged in the avalanche of Obama advertising.