Killing the Money Primary

July 4th's Washington Post featured a front-page story about how campaign contributors heavily favored Democrats in the three-month period that ended last weekend, giving three dollars to the party's leading contenders for every two dollars they gave to the top Republican candidates.

Barack Obama was the big money primary winner--with 285,000 total contributors since January, exceeding the combined number of donors to former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and Senator John McCain

While I think it's fascinating that Obama has had such success in raising money from small donors on the Internet--and see glimmers of democratization in how those small-$ donors are challenging the primacy of political finance's big guns of politics--I still question why the mainstream media seems to privilege the money primary at the expense of the ideas primary.

So what is to be done? On the money front, the New York Times counsels resuscitating matching public funds --"the once-popular tax assisted alternative that has been allowed to wither in recent years because of Congress's fixation on the power of private campaign money." But there is another alternative. Clean Money, Clean Elections -- with legislation supporting this major and viable reform advancing now in both the Senate and the House. In the Senate, the Durbin-Specter Fair Elections Now Act (S 1285) and in the House, the Clean Money, Clean Elections Act of 2007 (HR 1614) both have impressive co-sponsors. On the House side, of the 40 co-sponsors, many are in significant leadership positions.

But it's not only inside the beltway. According to Public Campaign, which has been working for ten years to change the way America funds elections, the movement, outside of Washington, continues to grow. As Nick Nyhart, Public Campaign's longtime and tenacious President puts it, there's a vibrant and growing citizen-centered movement out there that reflects America's diverse communities. From the AFL-CIO, to the National Council of Churches, the Sierra Club, the Dolores Huerta Foundation and the NAACP -- all have joined forces in support of Clean Money, Clean Elections and the legislation advancing it. is also wholeheartedly behind the effort to enact reforms that have worked well in Arizona and Maine to the Congress.

What's hopeful, though not reflected in the breathless coverage of the candidates' fundraising totals, is that seven daily mainstream newspapers -- including the Boston Globe, Chicago Sun-Times, and the St.-Louis Post Dispatch -- have specifically endorsed congressional public financing legislation. Moreover, the race at the local and state level to take out private money in favor of clean money is moving full force ahead.

Next time you read about the money primary, take a breath and go to and find an alternative which will give ordinary people and voters a chance to have their voices and ideas listened to.

Katrina vanden Heuvel is Editor and Publisher of The Nation. She is the co-editor of Taking Back America--And Taking Down The Radical Right (NationBooks, 2004).

Copyright (c) 2007 The Nation

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