by Chris Bowers, Mon Jul 31, 2006 at 01:08:14 PM EDT
Even during the stage where potential presidential candidates are just testing the supporter, staff and fundraising waters to see if a 2008 candidacy is a viable option, Feingold is already feeding off a small donor base. This is highly unusual, and speaks to Feingold's comfort level with people-powered movements. It also speaks to the maturation of the progressive movement since the 2004 cycle, which generally speaking did not participate in the 2002 period when potential candidates were testing the waters. Now, the progressive movement is both taking an active role in helping out some potential candidates, and is being actively courted by others.
Kerry has maintained a large small donors base through his still enormous email list. Clinton has probably built her small donor base primarily through direct mail, with a little email added in. It seems strange to me that while Edwards, Clark and Warner all regularly reach double-digits in Dailykos online polls, none of them seem to have any substantial amount of small donors this year. Perhaps they are simply not looking for them, which isn't exactly the best sign for candidates who have support online.
In an article on this subject, Craig Gilbert also raise an interesting question: is it possible for a candidate to win in 2008 while still using the public financing system?Another factor will be the likelihood that some candidates in the primaries opt out of the public financing system, which provides matching campaign grants to those who accept spending limits.
Dean and Kerry opted out in 2004 so they could spend more money, and experts think leading contenders will routinely do so in the future unless the system is changed and the limits are raised.
Feingold is sponsoring a reform plan, but prospects for action are iffy. The senator was asked in the interview last week if he would stay in the public finance system, even if it weren't changed.
"I'd be inclined to do so," Feingold said of abiding by spending limits in the primaries. "I really don't like the idea that it would be completely unlimited."
Cook, the political analyst, said flatly that any candidate who takes public money during the primaries and therefore accepts the spending limits will be vastly outspent by rivals who opt out.
"I just don't think you can have a financially competitive presidential campaign today under those restrictions," Cook said. A candidate who uses public financing shouldn't have any money problems during the early primaries when the nominee will be decided, nor should s/he have any problems after the convention when the second wave of public financing kicks in. The problems will arise between the period when the nominee is decided and the nominating convention. In 2008, that is a period that could last up to six months. A candidate using public financing may have to go dark for long stretches of time during those six months, and may have difficulty setting up staff in all relevant states.
Then again, perhaps too much is made of money in the presidential campaign. After all, in 2008, paid media will continue to grow even less effective as DVR's continue to rise, making free media where its at. Also, already in 2004 only 4.7% of all voters ever changed their minds during the course of the campaign, making you wonder if all this money is wasted anyway. Also, most GOTV operations are carried out by third parties, and third parties also contribute mightily to the air war during any national campaign. Further, any candidate swept up in the progressive movement might be able to run a much lighter and more agile operation, ala Ned Lamont in Connecticut. They could also expect a national volunteer base that would alleviate costs of staff and the ground game. Further, without any need to raise money, there won't be any email list abuse, as the campaign focuses more on message, issue education, and other types of activism. Still further, you won't need any fundraising staff, which will save money, you can cut down on direct mail, which will save a lot of money, and you can direct donations to other candidates, thereby earning their favor and help along the campaign trail.
So, what do you think? Is a candidate who opts into the public campaign finance system hurting himself / herself in a presidential campaign? Take the poll in the extended entry.