Obama's campaign finance decision

Behind The News
June 19, 2008 1:28:12 PM PDT
The announcement wasn't much of a surprise - but it's something of a risk, politically, for Barack Obama. He is now the first major party candidate to refuse to participate in the public financing system for Presidential campaigns. His position is that the system of taxpayer-funded campaigns has collapsed, and that to participate would put him at a disadvantage against Sen. John McCain, who will benefit from a better-financed, Republican Party-paid-for ad campaign against the Democratic candidate.

McCain has made public campaign financing a big issue throughout his career - saying it levels the playing field for candidates and keeps them away from special interests. The system limits the total amount of money that can be spent to about $84 million -- money they get from the government. In exchange, they cannot accept private donations. Private donations are typically made to the major party or to special political action committees, called "527 Groups," which can spend the money any way they see fit and does not fall under the same strict rules as donations directly to a candidate.

Those 527 groups have become a huge loophole in any talk of campaign finance reform, and the Republicans have far more of these groups than do the Democrats.

For those cynical about American politics, the emergence of these giant loopholes will seem typical; the powerful, some say, always figure out a way to circumvent the intent of progressive legislation.

And, make no mistake, campaign finance reform - begun after the Watergate scandal of 1972 -- is progressive on its face. But money tends to corrupt, and candidates in the middle of a do-or-die election campaign aren't typically in a position to honestly push for reform. They should be, but they're not.

So it's up to lawmakers to get tough about not taking special interest money. And in that task, most of them have failed miserably.

Tonight at 11, we'll have the latest on this campaign finance development, McCain's reaction (which will not surprise you) and the latest from the campaign trail.

By the way, just to put this $84 million spending limit into perspective: Obama in February and March raised about $95 million, with more than 90% of the contributions for $100 or less.

Also at 11, we're following what might become the next merger in the airline industry. United Airlines and Continental Airlines announced today they will be "linking their networks" -- the first step, say experts, to a merger. It's the latest consolidation in an industry that has been hard hit by the economic downturn and by rising fuel costs.

And speaking of downturn, the New York Rent Guidelines Board votes tonight on rent increases for more than a million rent stabilized and controlled apartments in the City. Usually there is much hub-bub at these meetings, as landlords yell that the increase isn't enough, and renters moan that it's too much. We'll see what tonight brings. Jeff Pegues is there for us.

We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Lee Goldberg's AccuWeather forecast, and Scott Clark with the night's sports. I hope you can join Liz Cho and me, tonight at 11.