Thursday, June 19, 2008

Public Financing and the Convention

WE'VE MOVED! Democratic Convention Watch is now at

By now everyone's aware of Obama's decision to opt out of public financing of his general election campaign - a decision he absolutely had to make. In April, 2006, I predicted this would happen:

I think public funding for the general election is going to be declined by both major candidates in 2008.
Well, 1 out of 2, as McCain will receive public financing. But lets look more closely at why I wrote that. First, here's what John Kerry said was his biggest mistake in 2004:
"I think the biggest mistake was probably not going outside the federal financing so we could have controlled our own message," the Massachusetts senator said on NBC's "Meet the Press." The Kerry campaign opted to accept federal money and federal spending limits and other rules after he won the Democratic nomination. The nominating convention in Boston occurred more than a month before the GOP renominated Bush, forcing Kerry to begin spending under federal rules much earlier than Bush.

"We had a 13-week general election, they had an eight-week general election. We had the same pot of money. We had to harbor our resources in a different way and we didn't have the same freedom," Kerry said. "I think the most important thing would have been to spend more money, if we could have, on the advertising and responding to some of the attacks," he said.

And it was this philosophy that drove Howard Dean to set the convention date in late August, just in case the Democratic nominee did decide to accept public financing. As I wrote:
It used to be there were advantages in having an earlier convention due to money. For a candidate taking public money for the primaries and the general election, they wouldn't get the general election money until after the convention. For example, Bob Dole in 1996 had a huge money problem in May and June. He was broke, and could do little advertising until he received his general election money in early August. Having an early convention was critical to a candidate low on funds.

But 8 years later, much had changed. Both Bush and Kerry opted out of public financing of their primary campaigns, and could therefore spend unlimited money until they had their convention. So the later the convention, the less time the General Election public money had to cover. This is why the Kerry campaign was looking at ways of potentially delaying the official acceptance of the nomination, so they could continue to use their unlimited primary money.
And four years later, things are changing again, and they're going to change again in 2012. I expect that John McCain will be the last major candidate to ever accept public financing for the general election.