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The Money Game

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You need us in that trough.

“The Republican Party’s suit was clearly prompted by its troubles in the 2008 election, in which Mr. Obama proved far more adept at fund-raising than John McCain. It is disturbing that the R.N.C. sees its salvation in clearing the way for corporations and other special interests to flood its campaign coffers once again.”

I missed this when it first went down, but the NYT just apprised me of it: On the verge of electoral oblivion — the retirements of Sens. Martinez, Brownback, Bond and Voinovich don’t help — the Republicans have filed two lawsuits aimed at overturning McCain-Feingold, apparently in the hope that they could then feasibly prostitute themselves back into power. (Feingold’s response.)

In 2003, in McConnell v. F.E.C., the justices upheld the precise provisions the Republicans are now challenging…The McConnell decision should end the matter. But the R.N.C. seems to be hoping that because of changes in the court — in particular, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s replacement by Samuel Alito — it can persuade the court to undo this recent and important precedent.” Hmm. I’ve got a bad feeling about this.

Reinforcements: The General…and an Army.

“‘They’re trying to connect [Obama] to some kind of terrorist feelings, and I think that’s inappropriate,’ Powell said. ‘Now I understand what politics is all about — I know how you can go after one another. And that’s good. But I think this goes too far. And I think it has made the McCain campaign look a little narrow. It’s not what the American people are looking for. And I look at these kinds of approaches to the campaign, and they trouble me. And the party has moved even further to the right, and Gov. Palin has indicated a further rightward shift.'”

The general is fed up, and he’s not alone. On a weekend when the Obama campaign announced a record-breaking $150 million September, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and Dubya Secretary of State Colin Powell officially endorses Barack Obama, arguing the Senator he is a “transformational figure” who, unlike his opponent, “has displayed a steadiness, an intellectual curiosity, a depth of knowledge…not just jumping in and changing every day, but showing intellectual vigor.

The GOP’s most famous drug-addled carnival grotesque, Rush Limbaugh, has taken to trotting out more sad McNabb-style race-baiting to try to deflect this unfortunate turn-of-events for the right, but other Republicans out there know — and will own up to — the score. “‘What that just did in one sound bite — and I assume that sound bite will end up in an ad — is it eliminated the experience factor,’ said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich…’How are you going to say the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the former national security adviser, former secretary of state was taken in?’…’This Powell endorsement is the nail in the coffin,’ said one Republican official, speaking anonymously to offer candid thoughts about the party’s nominee. ‘Not just because of him, but the indictment he laid out of the McCain campaign.’

Obama: No Public Financing.

“‘It’s not an easy decision, and especially because I support a robust system of public financing of elections,’ Obama said in a video message to supporters, circulated by his campaign. ‘But the public financing of presidential elections as it exists today is broken, and we face opponents who’ve become masters at gaming this broken system.’” Sen. Obama announces he will forego public financing for the general election.

Hmm. I was originally hoping the two candidates, based on their respective campaign finance reform bona fides, might come to an agreement that would make public financing work. But it’s become painfully clear that Sen. McCain has been gaming the system thus far, and at this point I wouldn’t trust him as far as I can throw him. The McCain campaign is calling Obama’s decision “a broken promise of staggering dimensions,” but frankly that dog’s not going to hunt. Sen. Obama has not only run a lobbyist-free campaign thus far, but has now even purged the DNC of their taint (give or take a few loopholes.) Meanwhile, the McCain bandwagon is absolutely crawling with lobbyists, and they apparently even feel free to conduct their business with impunity aboard the unfortunately-named “Straight Talk Express.”

Plus, with its enormously successful small-donor, Internet-based model of financing, the Obama campaign has brought new meaning to the term “public financing” anyway. So, while I’d ultimately like to see a public financing system that works, Sen. Obama still has enough credibility on this issue, I think, that his opting out doesn’t trouble me all that much. Put another way, Sen. Obama has a long way to go before he seems as full of it on campaign finance reform as McCain appears these days.

Jeepers Veepers.

After Sen. Clinton gets toxic and ridiculous over Michigan and Florida — In a clear attempt to poison the well (and fire up the smoke machine), she compared the DNC’s decision to adhere to the rules she herself agreed to (when it suited her) to Election 2000, Zimbabwe, and the civil rights movement — her aides, fundraisers, and husband try to foist Sen. Clinton as Obama’s veep. But Rural Votes’ Al Giordano says hold up: “The Field can now confirm, based on multiple sources, something that both campaigns publicly deny: that Senator Clinton has directly told Senator Obama that she wants to be his vice presidential nominee, and that Senator Obama politely but straightforwardly and irrevocably said ‘no.’ Obama is going to pick his own running mate based on his own criteria and vetting process.

In the meantime, regarding delegates: Obama picked up two more Edwards delegates and supers Pilar Lujan (GU) and Rep. Dennis Cardoza (CA) crossed paths switching (Lujan to Clinton, Cardoza to Obama.) Also for Obama since the last update: Rep. Jim Costa (CA), Rep. Joe Courtney (CT), and DNC members Scott Brennan (IA), Jenny Greenleaf (OR), and Wayne Dowdy (MS). (In the meantime, Clinton picked up 2 more UADs from Ohio and Massachusetts.) Thus, the most recent tally: Obama +7, Clinton +2. Sen. Obama is now 57 delegates away from the (current) magic number of 2025.

Clinton: The Netroots are Bitter.

“‘Moveon.org endorsed [Sen. Barack Obama] — which is like a gusher of money that never seems to slow down,’ Clinton said to a meeting of donors. ‘We have been less successful in caucuses because it brings out the activist base of the Democratic Party. MoveOn didn’t even want us to go into Afghanistan. [sic] I mean, that’s what we’re dealing with. And you know they turn out in great numbers. And they are very driven by their view of our positions, and it’s primarily national security and foreign policy that drives them. I don’t agree with them. They know I don’t agree with them. So they flood into these caucuses and dominate them and really intimidate people who actually show up to support me.‘”

As Sen. Obama racks up the endorsements of Robert Reich, Sam Nunn, and David Boren, Sen. Clinton gets her own private fundraiser gaffe: To wit, audio surfaces of her blaming the netroots and “activists” for her dismal showings thus far. Well, I’m sure that‘ll go over like gangbusters. (By the way, if you’re keeping score at home, it’s now screw the southern whites, screw the red states, screw the insignificant states, screw the impressionable elites, and now screw the netroots. But, if you’re a white working-class northerner without an Internet connection, you’re the bedrock of the nation, and no mistake.)

Nice work if you can get it.

‘We’ve come a long way from Harry Truman,’ said Leon E. Panetta.” At long last, the Clintons release their tax returns (to Drudge first), and the total post-White House tally amounts to $109 million, “with the former president collecting nearly half of that money as a speaker hired at times by companies that have been among his wife’s most generous political supporters.” The numbers are still being parsed, and the connections to key members of Clintons’ post-presidential rogues gallery — Ron Burkle, Vinod Gupta, the Quellos Fund, etc. — itemized and assessed. Still, the news that leaps off the page here is [a] the Clintons have done very well for themselves since leaving the White House, and [b] speechifyin’ pays top dollar in certain circles. “Sen. Clinton’s financial disclosure forms have offered a glimpse into her husband’s speaking career and the nexus between his clients and her campaign donors. The New York investment giant Goldman Sachs paid him $650,000 for four speeches in recent years…On one day in Canada, he made $475,000 for two speeches, more than double his annual salary as president.

Now, how ’bout those Foundation records?

Hoosier Hearts and Minds. | March Money.

“‘I read his national security and foreign policy speeches, and he comes across to me as pragmatic, visionary and tough. He impresses me as a person who wants to use all the tools of presidential power.‘” The good news from Indiana: Sen. Obama picked up the endorsment of Lee Hamilton, formerly an Indiana rep and one of the co-chairs of the 9/11 Commission. (Obama has also continued to out-raise Sen Clinton, although the official numbers aren’t yet known.) The bad news from Indiana: A new poll puts Clinton up there by nine, 52% to 43%. Wins in both Indiana and North Carolina on May 6 remain Obama’s best chance to put this away before mid-June, so keep your fingers crossed.

Update: More on the fundraising numbers: Sen. Obama’s campaign raised over $40 millions in March. “The campaign, which did not release an exact total, said more than 218,000 donors contributed to the campaign for the first time, and the average contribution was $96.” Sen. Clinton’s campaign, meanwhile, raised only half that.

Affordability matters.

“Among the debts reported this month by Hillary Clinton’s struggling presidential campaign, the $292,000 in unpaid health insurance premiums for her campaign staff stands out.” This was buried in a story over a month ago, but now it gets its own lede: While endlessly touting her insurance mandate as the be-all, end-all of health care reform, Sen. Clinton’s campaign hasn’t been paying the insurance bills. (This is in addition to screwing over local businesses and charities whenever possible, because apparently struggling mom-and-pop operations don’t need to be paid as quickly as corporate behemoths.)

Clinton donors: Our money, our rules.

“We have been strong supporters of the DCCC. We therefore urge you to clarify your position on super-delegates and reflect in your comments a more open view to the optional independent actions of each of the delegates at the National Convention in August.” My, that’s classy. A group of twenty top Clinton fundraisers (among them Robert Johnson, of BET, drug hysteria, and estate tax fame) attempt to blackmail Speaker Pelosi into backing the Senator’s convention coup…or else!

Uh, did they not hear about Obama’s $55 million haul, overwhelmingly from small donors, last month, or the $32 million he made in January? Welcome to the 21st century, y’all: Fatcat donors who think their money trumps the will of voters have gone the way of Betamax, HD-DVD, Pets.com, and the landline. But, way to embarrass yourselves, and your candidate, by wildly overstating the importance of your lucre. Honestly, you might as well take your checks over to the GOP — I’m sure your credit’s good with them.

The Reject and Denounce Double Standard.

As Ambinder notes today, the Clinton campaign dropped a $100,000 donor over the weekend, one Mehmet Celebi, apparently upon discovering he’s been making anti-semitic movies (about Jewish doctors harvesting organs from Muslims.) Said Clinton flunky Ann Lewis two days ago: “We were unaware of Mr. Celebi’s involvement in this film and we obviously do not agree with it.” That would seem to be a bit less forceful than Clinton’s “reject and denounce” blathering regarding Farrakhan at the Ohio debate, wouldn’t it? In any case, Ann Lewis is lying. The New York Post contacted the campaign about Celebi over a month ago, when they had no comment.

As for Farrakhan, WP columnist Colbert King notes that the Clintons were singing a very different tune on him until very recently. “Post-White House Clinton found no fault with Farrakhan’s leadership. There was no mention of Farrakhan’s ‘malice and division’ during the interview. [in 2005]” As always, the rules would seem to change whenever it fits the Clintons’ convenience.

The Numbers Game: 55, 3, 76.

“[It’s] a humbling achievement, and I am very grateful for your support,” Obama said in another fundraising appeal. “No campaign has ever raised this much in a single month in the history of presidential primaries. But more important than the total is how we did it — more than 90 percent of donations were $100 or less.” The fundraising numbers for February are released, and Sen. Obama raised a record-breaking $55 million (i.e., a full $20 million more than Sen. Clinton.) In other good campaign news, Obama picked up three more supers today (to Clinton’s one: Barbara Boxer.) And TPM’s FlyontheWall explains why the 76 UADs (unpledged add-on delegates) further complicate Clinton’s situation. Did I mention this was over?

More Endorsers. | One Million Strong.

It’s been a long, hard and difficult struggle to come to where I am now.I’ll say…Rep. John Lewis officially switches to Obama. Also, North Dakota Sen. Byron Dorgan announced his backing of the Senator from Illinois today, bringing Obama’s superdelegate total to 200. (He still lags behind Sen. Clinton by 56 in the supers category, but has picked up a net total of +34 since Super Tuesday.) Finally, if you’re looking for more endorsements, there are at least 999,998 more of ’em out there: The Obama campaign reaches one million individual donors, and counting. Update: When Rep. Lewis says this was a tough decision for him, he wasn’t kidding.

The Money Pit.

Hillary Clinton ended January with $7.6 million in debt – not including the $5 million personal loan she gave to her campaign in the run-up to the critical Super Tuesday elections, according to financial reports released Wednesday.” With the January FEC reports filed, Politico takes a look at the sinking fiscal ship that is the Clinton campaign. The key graphs: “According to the reports, Clinton raised about $20 million in January, including her loan. She spent nearly $29 million during the month. She reported a cash balance of $29 million. But more than $20 million of that is money dedicated to the general election. Her personal loan accounts for more than half of the remaining approximately $9 million, leaving just about $4 million in cash raised from donors. But even that money is illusionary when measured against the reported $7.6 million in debts.” So add that all up and you get: no money. (Hence, the fatcat 527.) But the silver lining for Sen. Clinton? At least she’s making interest on that loan.

Over at TNR, Christopher Orr emphasizes this finding from the piece: “More than $2 million of the red ink is owed to chief consultant and adviser, Mark Penn.” So that goes a long way toward explaining why he’s still employed over there these days, despite his obvious incompetence.

And a commenter in the same TNR thread teases out another key line buried in the article: “[T]he lengthy laundry list of IOUs also includes unpaid bills ranging from insurance coverage, phone banking, printing and catering at events in Iowa, New Hampshire and California.” Wait a tic: Sen. Clinton, she of the much-touted mandate, is now ducking the insurance bills? Hmm…maybe affordability is the real problem after all.

Update: Politico‘s Kenneth Vogel has more on where the money went, including $10 million to Mark Penn and $1300 to Dunkin Donuts.

Update 2: The NYT piles on the terrible financing issue: “Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s latest campaign finance report, published Wednesday night, appeared even to her most stalwart supporters and donors to be a road map of her political and management failings…’We didn’t raise all of this money to keep paying consultants who have pursued basically the wrong strategy for a year now,’ said a prominent New York donor. ‘So much about her campaign needs to change — but it may be too late.‘”

Losing Ugly.

As I noted last night, the delegate math would now appear to be out of reach for Sen. Clinton. But, from setting up an anti-Obama 527 to launching a new website aimed at changing the rules to the candidate’s “new” “time to get real” speech, the Clinton campaign looks to go down swinging. In related news, John McCain says pass the popcorn. Update: That 527 has its first ad ready to go in Ohio.

The Clinton Money Crunch.

“We are very frustrated because we have a Supreme Court that seems determined to say that the wealthier have more right to free speech than the rest of us. For example, they say you couldn’t stop me from spending all the money I’ve saved over the last five years on Hillary’s campaign if I wanted to, even though it would clearly violate the spirit of campaign finance reform.”

So said Bill Clinton only a little over a month ago. But, as per the norm with the Clinton campaign, things have now changed: Word leaks out that Senator Clinton is not only planning to self-finance her candidacy with personal “loans” (a la Mitt Romney), but that she already gave her campaign $5 million out-of-pocket last month. (Indeed, money’s gotten so tight around the Clinton camp that, according to Time‘s Mark Halperin, senior staff are now going without pay.)

Meanwhile, Sen. Obama is on pace for another $30 million month and has room to grow, mainly because he’s relying on a wider pool of small donors rather than (as per Senator Clinton) a smaller pool of maxed-out donors and an army of lobbyists. (Which reminds me, Senator Obama accepts donations here.)

I for one doubt Sen. Clinton’s campaign will really run out of cheddar. If anything, the campaign probably put the story out there so as to encourage their supporters to donate in the same fashion as Obama’s have. Still, this Clinton cash crunch further indicates how much of their election strategy was predicated on a Super Tuesday knockout punch. Having swung and missed, the Clinton camp is now nearing broke, and seriously hurting.

More to the point, even notwithstanding the inherent shadiness of self-financing, which no less than Bill Clinton attested to above, this move puts President Clinton’s penchant for troubling deals — such as his recent venture in Kazakhstan — right in the thick of things. Hard to ignore in any event, now this story comes front and center. If the Clintons are breaking into their private stash to get Senator Clinton elected, where did the money come from?

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