At this pace, Obama is expected
to surpass the $650 million total spent by both President Bush and Democrat John
Kerry in the 2004 election.
The campaign has used social networking
Web sites like Facebook and MySpace as well as e-mails and cell phone texts to
reach out to a broader population of potential donors than past campaigns. The
outreach work paid off: Obama has 3.1 million donors and the average contribution
to his campaign is less than $100, according to Obama campaign manager David Plouffe.
The campaign has also pulled in big donors, with three quarters of the
$600 million raised coming from donors making contributions of $200 or more, according
to a review of his FEC reports.
But at the center of the fundraising
feat is a debate over the future of public financing, a voluntary system created
to separate candidates from the influence of donors. The system offers presidential
candidates $84 million from the U.S. Treasury, but prohibits them from accepting
Obama's controversial choice
Obama is the first major-party presidential
candidate to reject public financing for the general election since the system
was enacted in 1974.
John McCain accepted public financing, which limited the amount he was allowed
to spend during the fall campaign to $84 million.
On the other hand his rival, Republican John McCain,
accepted the public financing plan and must rely on fundraising by the Republican
National Committee to make up the difference. The RNC raised $66 million in September.
Obama had pledged to participate in public financing if the other major party's
candidate did the same, but changed his mind in June after he began to raise huge
sums of money.
With the money Obama has raised, he is outspending McCain
and the RNC by more than 2-1 in advertising. Without RNC funding, Obama would
be outspending McCain nearly 4-1 in TV ads.
What is public financing?
The idea behind the public financing
system is that both candidates would have the same amount, a taxpayer-financed
grant, so that fundraising becomes less of a factor in how the candidates campaign.
President Theodore Roosevelt was the first to propose a public financing system
for presidential campaigns.
President Theodore Roosevelt first proposed the system in his 1907 State
of the Union Address. However, legislation creating the system was repeatedly
delayed until 1974, in the wake of the Watergate scandals.
The U.S. Treasury pays money to the campaigns from the Presidential Election Campaign
Fund, which comes from $3 voluntary contributions by citizens when they file their
One of the goals was to rid the election process of the impact
of funds from special interest groups looking for favors and support from Washington.
However, special interest groups have found loops holes to exert their influence,
and spend large amounts of money by directly producing ads for their favored candidate,
without going through the campaigns.
The system does not limit
the national political parties from raising and spending money, something that
the Republican Party has historically been more successful at.
When Obama announced
his decision, he said part of the justification for breaking his promise was that
McCain and the RNC benefit greatly from money from lobbyists and special interests,
instead of just the public funds.
The success of Obama's fundraising
efforts means that his campaign has a big strategic advantage over McCain. It
gives the campaign the freedom to spend money in battle ground states, or Republican
leaning states, Stuart Rothenberg, of the Rothenberg Political Report, told the
Analyst Stu Rothenberg said Obama's fundraising allows the candidate to spend
money in many states.
"The Obama campaign can spend in many, many states, decide
where to target the money, but have so much money they don't have to make choices,"
Obama has been able to set up offices and air ads in states
that President Bush won in 2004, including North Dakota, West Virginia, North
Carolina and Indiana.
Some critics are saying that Obama's refusal to participate
in the public financing system, and his successful fundraising efforts have dealt
a deathblow to the system.
"People will look back at 2008 as the
year that Barack Obama once and for all destroyed public financing as we know
it," Todd Harris, a Republican strategist who worked on McCain's 2000 presidential
campaign, told the Associated Press.
"It will be very difficult
four years from now for any candidate to make the case that they should participate
in public financing given the obvious financial advantage that Obama has received
by opting out."