(Crossposted from The Field.)
Today the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) will receive the final campaign fundraising reports for the 2008 presidential election. The reports will likely show that Obama and the Democratic National Committee outspent their Republican counterparts by a quarter-billion dollars.
They will also show that Obama used those resources to make an unprecedented investment to hire and train an army of field organizers, to open offices and other infrastructural support for its volunteers, to put a cadre of locally-based data-entry wizards (many of them volunteers) to work to build those lists of identified supporters and get them to the polls, among other expenditures on the newly respected ground war.
Good thing that Republican political svengali Karl Rove and his allies didn't read (or if they did, they didn't take seriously) my report of 14 months ago explaining that this was going to happen, and precisely how...
It's as if, after waiting for decades for reformers in Washington to get serious about public financing of electoral campaigns, a significant chunk of the public has moved out in front of the policy-makers and taken matters into its own hands.
Obama has not only out-raised the Clinton machine, but also each of the Republican candidates for president. The era of supremacy by the well-heeled "max out" donor is finally being chipped down to size, one small donation at a time... Win or lose, Obama - or, better said, his grassroots supporters - may have already brought a revolution in campaign financing that finally weans the process from it previous dependence on influence money...
If the third-quarter FEC reports, due on October 15, show that Obama's continued to raise money as he has thus far, his campaign's rhetoric about building precinct-level organization in the later primary states will likely become a reality. For the first time since the dawn of television, a maverick Democratic presidential challenger will be able to advertise in all the primary and caucus states between January and June. Plus, Obama will have converted significant swathes of his quarter-million donors into precinct-level organizers...
Now, here's Rove, today, splashed with cold water:
Between (June 1) and Oct. 15, the Obama/DNC juggernaut raised $658.7 million. I estimate today's reports will show Mr. Obama, the DNC and two other Obama fund-raising vehicles raised an additional $120 million to $140 million in October and November, giving them a total of between $827 million and $847 million in funds for the general election.
Mr. McCain and the RNC spent $550 million in the general election, including the $84 million in public financing Mr. McCain accepted in exchange for his campaign not raising money after the GOP convention...
Rove then (selectively) cites the obvious: that Obama was able to outspend McCain on television ads, by a 3/2 measure since June (Rove neglects to mitigate that in the final two months the spending was more at parity: Remember all those Obama ads over the summer linking McCain to Bush - and how the Chicken Littles screamed that the ads weren't hard-hitting enough? In retrospect, they softly dug McCain the hole - shovel by shovel, rather than with a big noisy back hoe - from which it became impossible for McCain to emerge, his imaginal stem cells became spliced with those of the detested incumbency.) And Rove makes a big cry of "unfair!" based things like Obama outspending McCain in Indiana by a factor of 7/1, which is more a consequence of the GOP's bad allocation of its resources and its arrogance in presuming that the state was in the bag.
Only in one sentence does Rove acknowledge that Obama's advantage wasn't really about the air war:
Mr. Obama also used his money to outmuscle Mr. McCain on the ground, with more staff, headquarters, mail and a larger get-out-the-vote effort.
Now, of course, comes the embarrassing spectacle by which Republicans will try to claim victim status. First, they're attempting to rewrite history:
Mr. Obama's campaign spun the storyline that he was being bankrolled by small donors. Michael Malbin, executive director of the Campaign Finance Institute, calls that a "myth." CFI found that Mr. Obama raised money the old fashioned way -- 74% of his funds came from large donors (those who donated more than $200) and nearly half from people who gave $1,000 or more.
Talk about moving the goal posts! Rove's suggestion that someone who gives $200 - what he spends taking a client to lunch! - equals a "large donor" when the maximum allowed was $4,600 is laugh-out-loud funny. (Particularly so, when one considers that someone who gave, say, $50 a month over four months is now defined by Rove as one of the fat cats.) But in Rove's own statement - "nearly half from people who gave $1,000" - we find the corollary: more than half of Obama's money came from donors who gave (combining all their contributions into one sum total per individual) less than a grand.
They will try to spin this as somehow underhanded (Rove notes that some donations came online from pre-paid credit cards under names like "Bart Simpson," but, really, he ought to tread carefully on that because it's evident to this longtime observer that such small contributions under funny names far more likely came from forces trying to discredit the Obama fundraising, much as they did to Acorn when that organization was forced by law to submit even those voter registration forms filled out by "Mickey Mouse.")
Rove's solution to the supposed problem of big donors being outnumbered by small ones?
"It is time to trust the American people and remove limits on how much an individual can donate to a campaign."
Good luck with that, chump. At least for the next four to eight years, that era of big donor dominance is over in presidential politics, and 2010 presents the opportunity for new Congressional and other challengers to inspire small donors to similarly fracture the old game from bottom to top.
It will go down in history as one of President Obama's most glorious accomplishments, and he did it even before he takes the oath of office.