Michael E. Toner, the chairman of the Federal Election Commission, has some friendly advice for presidential candidates who plan to be taken seriously by the time nominating contests start in early 2008: Bring your wallet.
"There is a growing sense that there is going to be a $100 million entry fee at the end of 2007 to be considered a serious candidate," Toner said in a recent interview. ***
Many political operatives are expecting that the gradual breakdown of the public funding system -- federal funds in exchange for spending limits -- that has taken place in recent years will become complete in 2008. The result would be candidates in both parties racing far past old spending records, and facing new pressure to begin raising money far in advance of the election year.***
What's more, many analysts believe that 2008 will be a clash of such titanic intensity that the nominees will reject public funding -- and the spending limits that govern it -- even for the fall campaign. If so, most bets are that each major-party candidate would need to raise in excess of $400 million by the Nov. 4, 2008, election. Candidates would want to raise as much of that money as early as possible, so as not to waste precious campaign time holding fundraisers.
Steve Elmendorf, the deputy manager for Kerry's general election campaign against Bush, predicted that accepting matching funds is a "thing of the past in the primary and the general." Public funding of presidential campaigns was started in 1976 in the wake of the Watergate scandal.
A final factor inflating the pressure to raise money early is Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.). She has a proven ability to raise money on a national scale, and if she runs for president in 2008 she will raise the stakes for competitors in both parties.
Other Democratic contenders, such as Sen. Evan Bayh (Ind.) or former Virginia governor Mark R. Warner, would need to raise money aggressively to avoid being swamped by sums. Many Republicans, meanwhile, believe that their candidates must base their fundraising strategies on the assumption that Clinton will turn down public financing and set a new standard for fundraising and spending in the fall campaign.
One Republican 2008 operative, discussing campaign strategy on the condition of anonymity, said it would be "irresponsible" for a candidate to be thinking solely about spending needs for a primary election campaign without weighing "the consequences of what Hillary is bringing to the financial table and how quickly a potential nominee will have to turn his attention to dealing with her campaign."
Note that last, loaded quote from a Republican: "what Hillary is bringing to the financial table." Not "would bring if she wins the nomination," but "is bringing."
Everything this article says about the money game in the 2008 general election goes tenfold for the Democratic primary: Hillary is a 10-ton gorilla who will dominate to the exclusion of all other, potentially better, candidates:
Sen. Clinton... is expected to have little trouble raising $100 million by the end of 2007 if she runs. The Clinton backers said a legitimate challenger to her would need to raise between $35 million and $40 million to finance strong campaigns in Iowa, New Hampshire and other early states.
Hillary Clinton deserves a fair shot at becoming the Democratic nominee for President in 2008. But that's not what she's gunning for, or how the system works. She already IS the candidate, or will be very soon. She has the financial support of George Soros. She has Harold Ickes spending Soros' money to data-mine voter and donor information on an unheard-of scale and has no intention of sharing that information with other candidates or the Democratic National Committee, whose chair, Howard Dean, she can barely tolerate. She has a
Do you wonder why no Democrats are stepping up to take leadership of the Party while the Republicans are stumbling? Because there's no margin in it, no profit. Hillary is acting to advance her own interests as a candidate, not for the benefit of the party, and anyone else who becomes a national party leader risks becoming a target of the F.O.H.
The Republicans already know who they're running against. The leading Democrats already know who they're NOT bothering running against. And we're sitting back watching pro wrestling, naively wondering who's going to win.
Hillary has the right to run. She really does. But she does not have the right to be anointed our nominee, any more than Bush had the right to be anointed our President, because people who are anointed generally are not responsive to the people. We won't reclaim democratic government if we can't hold democratic primaries. And we can't hold truly democratic -- as in populist -- primaries if the Brown/Hackett and Casey/Pennacchio "party boss" system chooses our next Presidential candidate, as well.
If the pattern of 2004 holds for 2008, the huge surge in small donations over the Internet and through direct mail will not begin until two candidates have effectively locked up their respective nominations, probably in early March 2008.
Former Vermont governor Howard Dean caused a sensation on the Democratic side by raising $41 million by the end of 2003 for his presidential campaign, much of it in small donations from grass-roots activists. Though that was double what eventual nominee Kerry raised in 2003, that kind of money almost certainly will turn no heads in the next cycle.
Short of a grainy video of Hillary and Monica suddenly appearing on adult websites, the only way I see to short-circuit the "smoky backroom" process is for grassroots voters to put lots of money behind a single, strong challenger EARLY -- far, far earlier than the first primaries. A year earlier. Two years earlier. NOW. Dean's $41 million may "turn no heads" over a full election cycle, but it WOULD be enough to finance a serious challenger through the early primaries -- and if someone can keep up with Clinton that far, then other money will start coming in and there would be a real horserace. (And it's the horserace, not the outcome of that race, that I want to ensure).
The question is, will grassroots contributors -- who are tremendously powerful once their attention has been seized, but who have lives to lead the rest of the time -- will those grassroots contributors give their seed money BEFORE the mainstream media tells us the race has started? Because by the time MSNBC and the New York Times say it's started -- it's over.
Oh, one more thing: while we're using big words like aristocracy and plutocracy, try looking up this one, because it's what we'll get if we keep allowing big money and powerful connections to select our candidates for us, instead of demanding a return to truly democratic primaries: kakistocracy.
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