Fair. Balanced. American.

Sunday, August 31, 2003

Money questions

Curious about the consequences if George Bush accepts public funding for the general election, JUSIPER reader David asks, "if the $250 million [raised during the primaries] is not spent, is it lost? Does Bush have to return it? Or does he get to keep spending it on the campaign?" Here's part of the answer, from today's Boston Globe:

Although this money theoretically is for the primaries, Bush has no primary opponent. He is thus able to spend his money from now to the Republican convention in September 2004, giving him a major edge for the fall campaign.

The disparity is so large that Representative Martin T. Meehan, the Lowell Democrat who coauthored the campaign law, said in an interview that Democratic candidates would be better off rejecting public financing and avoiding the attendant spending cap -- hardly the position of a reformer.

Where is Bush's money going to come from? Same places as before:

Bush, relying heavily on oil and financial interests, rejected public funding. Thus he didn't have to abide by the cap. As a result, he had about $100 million to spend, more than twice the sum raised by Gore, the Democratic nominee, who did agree to the cap.

Then came the campaign-finance law. Doubling the individual contribution is likely to double Bush's war chest to $200 million.

Meanwhile, the only organization that can give the Democratic nominee direct aid - the DNC - is strapped, starved. The Globe story points out that in it's current state, the party lacks the money to do an adequate job even of registering minority voters. That's something that can't be overlooked; as Jesse Jackson has been saying, "We must go South again." The Globe doesn't mention, however, that such tasks can be performed partly by other organizations acting independently, like the new $75 million effort planned by unions, women's rights groups, and George Soros.

No doubt, there's going to be a lot of finger-pointing going on -- at the campaign finance reformers in Congress, at the DNC for its reliance on the now-banned soft money. But there's no time for blame. It's time to remake the party, fast. Time to heed Kos, and the sudden jackpot wisdom of the Dean campaign. The Globe quotes former DNC chair Steve Grossman, now Dean's national cochair:

''The Democratic Party's salvation is to take a serious look at what the Dean campaign has done in terms of donor development and cultivation and to try to emulate that.''

Things the DNC needs to adopt and co-opt into a coherent structure, with a measure of centralized leadership and coordination: Jerry Lewis-style telethons for the wired world, and new local and national infrastructures developed via new tools like internet-arranged meetups -- which connect people, not just their money. And it needs to stay in step with the old infrastructures -- unions, enviromentalists, civil rights groups, etc. -- that are becoming increasingly interconnected themselves via new, movement-style connections.

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