Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Obama and "Special Interests"

Here's an interesting article on Obama and the "special interest" groups that are contributing time and money to his campaign, mostly outside of the campaign finance regulatory system:

fter months of denouncing the influence of special-interest money in politics, Senator Barack Obama is nonetheless entering a critical phase of the presidential campaign benefiting from millions of dollars being spent outside campaign finance rules.

Mr. Obama has repudiated a California group, Vote Hope, that is working on his behalf. But it has pressed on and, along with a sister organization called, is planning to spend up to $4 million promoting him in California and conducting voter registration drives aimed at blacks in 11 Southern states.

The group has already run radio advertisements with local ministers in South Carolina. New advertisements, some for television, have been prepared for California, one with the rap star Common and others focusing on black and Latino voters.

As the campaign treasuries of Mr. Obama and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton are rapidly draining heading into the nominating contests in more than 20 states on Tuesday, independent political groups — whether so-called 527 groups, political action committees, nonprofit organizations or trade unions — are stepping in to help fill the void. The efforts of these groups, particularly 527s, which are named for a section of the tax code under which they fall, worry campaign finance watchdogs because many can take unlimited contributions from donors and have limited oversight.

Mr. Obama’s campaign says it has taken pains to discourage these efforts on its behalf, and in fact the campaign has no recourse in controlling them. “We do not think people should be donating to 527s,” said Bill Burton, a campaign spokesman. “We would rather have them involved in our campaign. It is our hope that anyone who supports Obama does so directly through his campaign and not through these outside groups.”

This is said with a wink and a nod of course. Of course they want people donating to 527s, because campaign finance law limits how much you can contribute directly to the campaign of a candidate. So what are well-off contributors supposed to do with all that money? Well, they funnel it to 527s and enjoy anonymity in the process because, ostensibly, 527s are not advocating directly for the election of one candidate or the other but on political issues in general, and so are not subject to the contribution limits and disclosure requirements of political action committees. Of course as we witnessed in 2004, prominent 527s like MoveOn and the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth most certainly did prominently advocate for the election or defeat of candidates. And they were fined as a result for violating campaign finance 2006, two years after the elections and long after they achieved their desired results of circumventing the campaign finance system. Of course, this was an after-the-fact determination by the FEC, meaning there was no real change in the campaign finance system. Instead, groups like MoveOn and the Swift Boaters were warned to behave next time or face the same fines, which for groups like is practically an invitation to misbehave.

Anyway, this article nails Obama, but the truth is all candidates disclaim "special interest" groups like these on one hand, and take their money with the other. They'd be fools not to, and that's the way it'll stay until substantial and comprehensive campaign finance reform is enacted in this country.

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