Friday, May 07, 2004
There's a lot of talk these days about how both President Bush and John Kerry are raising record amounts of money from small donors. See for example this recent article by the Washington Post. The article profiles a formerly apolitical veteran who has given $100 to the President and an airline operations manager who not only has made a small contribution to John Kerry but has organized a $50-a-person fundraiser that she hopes will bring in up to $10,000. Some small donors are giving straight to the candidates, but others are giving to political parties, or outside groups like MoveOn.org.
This surge in small donors, spurred by strong feelings about our current president and the fact that the race is so close, is a good thing. It dispels the myth of reform opponents that it would simply be impossible for candidates to run their campaigns solely with the support of ordinary citizens. For democracy to flourish, citizens need to do more than vote. Getting involved through small campaign contributions, writing letters to the editor, wearing political buttons, and the like is part of the civic process.
But unfortunately, this historic rise in small donor participation has been more than offset by increased giving by the fat cats. According to analysis by the United States Public Interest Research Group, in the first quarter of this year, presidential contestants raised almost half of their funds in contributions at or above $1000, up from 31% in the 2000 race. Nearly a third (29%) of candidates' individual contributions came in the maximum amount of $2,000. So, the bankers and oil company execs have even more say than the rest of us than they did before. This rise in large donor fundraising is no doubt also spurred by the closeness of the election, but large donors can now play an even bigger role in presidential politics due to the doubling in contribution limits in the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act.
So, let's embrace the good news. But, remember that while its good to see small money flowing into politics, we've still gotta get the big money out.
UPDATE: Here's a good editorial in the Albany Times Union that makes the same point:
Here's a reality check for all those who thought the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law would wring out the influence of money on elections: You couldn't be more wrong. But you're also in good company. All of the experts were wrong as well.