Under the subject line "I will be outspent," President Obama sent an urgent email plea to his supporters on Tuesday, asking for their nickels and dimes. "My opponent spent this past weekend at a secretive retreat for the biggest donors to both his campaign and the super PACs that support him," Obama wrote. "I've got other responsibilities I'm attending to."
He sure does. As Obama sent that electronic message, he was in the midst of a two-day, seven-fundraiser swing. One hundred donors reportedly attended his Monday night event at a private residence in Weston, Mass., with tickets selling for $17,900 per person or $35,800 per couple. He was planning on raising about $2.3 million at high-dollar fundraisers in Atlanta and Miami on Tuesday. Previously, he had netted $15 million at a star-studded event at George Clooney's house, one of just 27 different fundraisers with movie and television stars. In May, USA Today reported Obama had attended 191 fundraisers -- making him the most dedicated fundraiser-in-chief in at least three decades.
We do not object to Obama, a presidential candidate, raising the money he needs to run his campaign. But these facts should at least add some context to his sudden, self-pitying announcement that he will be "the first president in modern history to be outspent in his re-election campaign, if things continue as they have so far." That is extremely unlikely to happen, but even if it does, Obama will have only himself to blame for starting a campaign finance arms race during the last election cycle.
In early 2007, then-Senator Obama bravely challenged the Republican candidates for president to pledge they would accept public financing of their general election campaigns, should they receive their party's nomination. And Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who eventually became Obama's opponent, accepted the challenge and the spending limits that come with public financing. But four years ago this week, Obama reneged on the challenge he himself had issued. He probably realized just how much money he could raise and spend (three-quarters of a billion dollars, in the end) if he was willing to compromise his theretofore principled stand in favor of public campaign financing. Obama's reasoning for this move was nearly circular: Because the system was, as he put it, "broken," he had no choice but to break it further in order to become president and fix it. Four years later, he has done nothing of note to fix it.
As a result of his choice, Obama outraised and outspent John McCain by more than two-to-one. Obama's 2008 effort is now remembered for its large number of small donations, but history may remember him as the candidate who won amid a Wall Street collapse by massively outraising his opponent in the commercial banking, hedge fund, private equity, real estate and securities industries.
We do not share Obama's professed aversion to money in politics -- if anything, we view it is a mere symptom of America's addiction to big government. But judging by his actions, Obama does not share his own professed beliefs, either. Obama was a trailblazer -- the first presidential candidate in the post-Watergate era to reject public financing of his campaign. He is probably the last person in America who should be pontificating about outside money or complaining that someone else's candidacy is being bought and sold by wealthy donors.