Identifying the Threat

Breaking news: not all lobbyists are evil people. In related news, "lobbying" signifies so many different types of activities undertaken in pursuit of so many goals that to vilify or exonerate the whole profession is a useless enterprise. Instead, let's get after the real danger here: big campaign contributions from lobbyists (and their clients) that come in around about the same time key legislation is being debated and voted on. Lobbying isn't wrong, legalized bribery is.

Sen. Barack Obama has made much of his campaign's refusal of donation by federal lobbyists -- but will his likely decision to opt out of the presidential public financing system hurt his image as a supporter of campaign finance reform?

 

Obama pledged in March 2007 to pursue an agreement with the Republicans to participate in the public-financing system, which is designed to limit the influence of big money. That was before he began shattering private-fundraising records.

Strategists from both parties say the presumptive Democratic nominee would have an advantage of more than $100 million in the general election if he declines public money and its spending restrictions. The question is how much criticism he'd take for becoming the first presidential candidate to opt out of the system, which dates back to the Watergate era.

I get the sense that any hit he took for it woudn't be too serious. The partial public financing program that covers the presidential race is woefully underfunded and most Americans haven't been educated about how it works, or even why it's around. Obama has already signed on to legislation that would improve the system, as well as the Fair Elections Now Act that would create a full public financing program for Congress. That said, if he does opt out in the general election this already record-breaking campaign season is going to get even more ludicrously expensive.