Obama announced he would become the first presidential candidate since 1972 to rely totally on private donations for his general election campaign, opting out of the system of public financing and spending limits that was put in place after the Watergate scandal.
One reason, he said, is that "John McCain's campaign and the Republican National Committee are fueled by contributions from Washington lobbyists and special interest PACs."
We find that to be a large exaggeration and a lame excuse. In fact, donations from PACs and lobbyists make up less than 1.7 percent of McCain's total receipts, and they account for only about 1.1 percent of the RNC's receipts.
Sen. Barack Obama declared June 19 that he would not accept public funds for his general election campaign and would instead finance it entirely with private donations. Or, as he put it, with money from "the American people." He thus will not be bound by the spending limits that would have come with taxpayer money, and he will be legally free to spend as much as he can manage to raise.
A Lame Excuse
However, the first of the two reasons he gave for his decision doesn't square very well with the facts. In a video recording sent to supporters, Obama said:
To say that either the McCain campaign or the RNC are "fueled" by money from lobbyists and PACs is an overstatement, to say the least. Such funds make up less than 1.7 percent of McCain's presidential campaign receipts and 1.1 percent of the RNC's income.
McCain – As of the end of April, the McCain campaign had reported receiving $655,576 from lobbyists, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That is less than seven-tenths of 1 percent of his total receipts of $96,654,783. His campaign also took in $960,990 from PACs, amounting to just under 1 percent of total receipts. The two sources combined make up less than 1.7 percent of his total.
RNC – The Republican National Committee has raised $143,298,225, of which only $135,000 has been come from lobbyists, according to the CRP. That's less than one-tenth of 1 percent. It also took in about 1 percent of its receipts from PACs, CRP said. Taken together, that's about 1.1 percent from PACs and lobbyists.
It's not our place to comment on the wisdom or propriety of Obama's financial strategy, except to note that it is perfectly legal and also that McCain and Obama both refused to accept public funds or spending limits during the primary campaign.
We also note that Obama's decision – whatever may have motivated it – is likely to give him a big financial advantage over McCain in the weeks just before the November election. This is a reversal of the historic pattern, in which Republican candidates have nearly always been able to out-raise their Democratic rivals. Had Obama accepted public funds, as McCain is expected to do, both candidates would have been limited to spending $84.1 million, all of it from taxpayers. But Obama has shown the potential for raising and spending much more.
The Obama campaign already has raised $265 million through the end of April, more than two-and-a-half times as much as McCain has taken in. Figures for May are due out soon. The Obama campaign said on May 6 that it had surpassed 1.5 million individual donors, and it probably has many more than that by now. All of those primary donors are legally free to make new contributions to finance Obama's general election campaign, which officially commences after he becomes certified as the Democratic party's nominee at the convention at the end of August.
The lobbyist figures we give here could stand some minor refinement. The totals might be reduced somewhat if the CRP used Obama's rather narrow definition of "lobbyist." Obama makes a point of refusing money from those who are currently registered to lobby at the federal level. The CRP has a broader definition, counting money from anyone working at a lobbying firm, registered or not, state or federal, and their families as well. By CRP's definition Obama himself has taken in $161,927 from lobbyists.
On the other hand, CRP does not count registered lobbyists who work in-house for corporations, industry groups and unions, but classifies them with their industries. Adding those in-house lobbyists to the total could increase the amounts somewhat. But adding donations from in-house lobbyists and subtracting donations from those who don't meet Obama's strict definition would not be likely to change the total by much, and certainly not by enough to justify Obama's claim that McCain and the RNC are "fueled" by such donations.
Also, for what it's worth, the Democratic National Committee has historically been far more reliant on PAC and lobbyist money than the RNC. In 2004, PACs provided about 10 percent of the DNC's total fundraising and only about 1 percent of the RNC's total, according to the CRP. Obama, after he sewed up enough delegates to win the party's nomination, sent word to the DNC to stop accepting PAC and lobbyist donations.
Republished with permission from factcheck.org