The First Amendment still protects talking points.

Senator Obama had some interesting comments the other day. Oh, not those comments. No, he shared a thought or two on public financing for political campaigns.

Senator Barack Obama said today that the public financing system for presidential campaigns, which has been in place since 1976, is antiquated and should be overhauled in the era of Internet-driven fundraising.

“I think that it is creaky and needs to be reformed if it’s going to work,” Mr. Obama told reporters at a morning news conference. “We know that the check-off system has been declining in participation and as a consequence, the amount of money raised through the public financing system may be substantially lower than the amount of money that can be raised through small donations over the Internet.”

The check-off system is a tax on those of us who are smart enough to ignore that $3 box by those of us who are not. But there’s a better point buried in there. Senator Obama has found a new, better way to finance a campaign than big, moneyed interests. (I’m correcting the ridiculous hyphen placement used in the article.) Isn’t this the same new, better way to finance a campaign advocated by Jerry Brown in 1992, with the Internet being the only difference? What Sen. Obama is ultimately saying is that the Internet is an equalizer. But that would mean that the system is no longer necessary, not that it should be swept into an updated First Amendment infringement campaign finance regulation. His campaign is showing that government can never keep up with efforts to avoid the letter of the law. His political spidey sense tells him we should still try, subjecting ourselves to a permanent game of public catch-up that “we” can never win.

Of course, it’s not about the power of the voice of the small donor, is it?

… “I would like to see a system preserved. And I intend, if I am the nominee, to have conversations with Senator McCain about how to move forward in a way that doesn’t allow third parties to overwhelm the system.”

I don’t believe that Sen. Obama is stupid enough to think that a third-party candidate is going to overwhelm the system in 2008. At the current pace of legalized incumbent entrenchment in Washington, I’ll be amazed if a third-party candidate can win in 2108, to say nothing of overwhelming “the system”. But what if some third party’s candidate did make noise? Is that bad, or do the voices of those parties not matter because we already have our two deserving parties to balance each other?

This is just a useful, if unsurprising, reminder that Senator Obama likes the outside role until he’s an insider. Just like every other politician.

2 thoughts on “The First Amendment still protects talking points.”

  1. Good find on this one. Just one thing- it looks like he’s talking about third parties in the sense of large, corporate donors rather than third party candidates. Still, the reality is that campaign finance reform just about always has a disproportionate effect on third party candidates.

  2. Mark,
    I think you’re right on his narrow intent. I made the jump in my head – but not in the entry – that Obama wanted us to remember the exclusively noble interests of the two major parties. This was best demonstrated by my shift from the poorly worded big-moneyed interests to big, moneyed interests.
    That said, you’re right. I think this post should’ve been narrowed down to clarify or excise the second excerpt.

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