How a campaign is financed – and how transparent that financing is – are critical to democracy. Linda’s discussion about Ellen L. Weintraub’s and Jason K. Levine’s “Campaign Finance and the 2008 Elections: How Small Change Can Really Add Up,” had great examples of what is supposed to be transparent but is in fact really hard to find, as well as what is transparent, but nobody seems to be talking about it.
First, how John McCain’s 2008 campaign was funded was difficult to track down. I set to looking further into this after class and spent a couple of hours reading news reports with lots of accusations of flip flops, but very little on context and the big picture of “who did what.” In summary, what my online search of news reports, OpenSecrets, and then verification through the FEC, found was that McCain accepted public financing for the primaries, then opted out part the way through because he didn’t want to stick to the spending guidelines once he had spent more money than the limits allowed. However, in the general election, according to the FEC Summary of Contributions, McCain appears to have stuck with public financing and used the $84,103,800 in federal funds. The FEC has a fairly solid presidential campaign data visualizer, however, their search fields turned up nothing when the key words “McCain” + “2008” + “public financing” are used, which I found frustrating when trying to get financing information from the site.
Next, was the incredibly telling Obama vs. Romney Contributor’s table that Linda showed in one of her slides. It was impactful not in its surprise factor, but the clarity of the category of backers for each candidate. The top five contributors for Romney are five major banks. The top five contributors of Obama’s campaign are two tech giants, two universities, and a global law firm, which represents mainly tech companies. I wish we were seeing more journalist-written stories and analysis and what that means and why it matters. A Google search for these kinds of reporter analysis turned up a couple of blog posts and one PolitiFact article confirming a Facebook post which listed the top 6 contributors for each candidate. I think political journalists can do better and I certainly hope as the election heats up, we will see more in depth reporting on who is backing who and what it means.
Note: This was originally posted as a comment directly to Linda’s piece, but I realized there was an actual category for response to discussion leader so I’m posting it here, as well.