Opting In or Out

Candidates must decide whether they will accept public campaign financing

of what he would be given [in public funds],” Kauffman says.

With 1.5 million donors, the Illinois senator has also reversed the status quo on types of donations given and the method in which it is given to the Democratic nominee. “The people who this candidate appeals to are the people who are more likely to use the internet and be more comfortable with donating online,” Doyle says.

“He’s raising money at a historic pace. In the last month, 65% of his funds were donated in amounts of $200 or less and 16% in amounts of $1000 or more,” says Malbin, of the Campaign Finance Institute. “For McCain the amounts are reversed. Sixty-four percent of donations in the month of April came in amounts of $1000 or more, and McCain received 24% of donations in amounts of $200 or less.”

Recently, Obama has trumpeted his fundraising efforts as perhaps a parallel initiative to the public funding system. The MDN reported that at a Washington fundraiser Obama argued that his campaign has demonstrated how the American people can support a candidate and “will have as much access and influence over the course and direction of our campaign that has traditionally [been] reserved for the wealthy and the powerful.”

“It is not quite the equivalent, but it is mass-based support,” says Malbin. “McCain’s donor profile looks normal. Sen. Obama’s is highly unusual. If he opts out he will argue that he is not beholden to large donors.”

When it comes to fundraising, Arizona’s McCain is at a clear disadvantage compared with Obama and Clinton and some say he needs the public funding more than they do. The word on the street is that the Republican National Committee is going to raise a whole lot of money for McCain, much more than what he would have been able to raise himself.

In fact, the RNC has a very significant lead on the Democratic National Committee. Some believe that because the Democratic primaries are running into overtime it has put a crunch on party fundraising. In the past, when there is a clear frontrunner for the nomination, fundraising typically surges. When Sen. John Kerry was the clear presumptive Democratic nominee in 2004, the DNC raised $19 million in April. This April, the DNC raised $4.7 million ($22.4 million year-to-date), while the RNC raised $15.7 million ($52.2 million year-to-date).

“The parties do get involved,” Kauffman says. “The question is which party is going to be able to raise more money.”

Obama may opt out of public funding because raising money for his campaign might allow him to collect more money and will give him more control over the message that he wants to advertise. Otherwise, if the Democratic Party raises money on his behalf, he is not allowed by law to coordinate with them on advertising.

“Some Democratic Party professionals that worked on the Democratic 2004 campaign were sorry that Sen. Kerry did not opt out,” Malbin says. “They thought the independent advertising sponsored by the party committee was not helpful to Sen.

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