Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Palin's fundraiser email and public financing: It's all in the fine print

Greg Sargent at TPM has already had some harmless fun with the latest "ask" email from the McCain campaign:

From the email:

Friends, in the course of a few weeks, the Obama-Biden Democrats have launched attack after attack on me, my family and John McCain. They're desperate to win and they'll no doubt launch these attacks against other reformers on our ticket.

I didn't remember any attacks on Palin's family from Obama, Biden, or their top supporters. So I asked the McCain campaign what this was a reference to.

Here, according to a McCain campaign aide, are the attacks on Palin's family from "Obama-Biden Democrats" that the email refers to:

1) Obama finance committee member Howard Gutman questioning Palin's parenting and her willingness to take on the Veep candidate role when her family is so consuming -- a comment he subsequently apologized for.

2) Andrew Sullivan's demand that the McCain campaign release medical records putting to rest rumors about the birth of Trig Palin.

3) A user diary on DailyKos, which is of course the site of leading Obama supporter Markos Moulitsas, raising questions about that pregnancy.

And that's it.

(And don't miss the postscripted comment from Kos about item #3.)

So there's not really much more to be said about the whiny, dishes-it-out-but-can't-take-it body of the email itself.

Let's turn, instead, to the fine print.

The McCain campaign, you'll recall, opted for public financing in the summer of 2007 when it looked like his campaign was going to die in the wilderness, trailing far behind their better-financed GOP rivals in the money chase. And then, of course, there was that foul-smelling business last spring in which McCain used the promise of federal financing as security for a multi-million dollar loan to the campaign--after which he began talking about rejecting federal funding. (McCain was eventually exonerated by a hamstrung FEC, but the aroma lingers.)

Now come fundraising pitches like the one TPM quotes above. (A copy of the email is reproduced at right--click to enlarge.) One would expect the McCain campaign, having finally opted to stay within the public financing rules for fundraising and spending, to include the appropriate disclaimers in its modest asks:

They are spreading lies and misinformation and we must stop them. Your immediate contribution of any amount- whether it's $25 or $250- helps McCain-Palin Victory 2008 fight back before they turn these shameful tactics on others we support.

One pictures Mom and Pop going a little short on bread money--and Junior and Sis breaking open the piggy-banks--to help Mr. McCain and that nice Palin lady. Every penny counts, after all.

Except . . . wait a minute. "McCain-Palin Victory 2008?" Is that their campaign's official name?

Actually, uhm, no.

Here's the fine print from that email, and from the McCain-Palin Victory 2008 site:

Because the McCain-Palin Campaign is participating in the presidential public funding system, it may not receive contributions for any candidate's election. However, federal law allows the McCain-Palin Campaignís [sic] Compliance Fund to defray legal and accounting compliance costs and preserve the Campaign's public grant for media, mail, phones, and get-out-the-vote programs. Contributions to McCain-Palin Victory 2008 will go to the Compliance Fund, and to participating party committees for Victory 2008 programs.

Gotcha! All those links in Palin's email go to a McCain-Palin joint fundraising committee, which isn't bound by the limits on donations--$2600 per person--faced by Obama, who's opted out of the public financing system.

Let's go back to the fine print again:

Victory 2008 allocates contributions to the Republican National Committee ("RNC"), the state parties' federal accounts, and McCain-Palin Compliance Fund ("Compliance Fund") in conformity with federal limits. Unless a contribution would exceed federal limits or a contributor designates otherwise, Victory 2008 will divide contributions as follows:

  • For Individuals- The first $28,500 will go to the RNC, the next portion will be divided evenly between the Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, and Pennsylvania state parties' federal accounts up to a maximum of $9,250 for each Committee, and the final $2,300 will go to the Compliance Fund.

  • For Federal Multicandidate PACs- The first $15,000 will go to the RNC, the next portion will be divided evenly between the Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, and Pennsylvania state parties' federal accounts up to a maximum of $5,000 for each Committee, and the final $5,000 will go to the Compliance Fund.

We're not talking about $25 from under the couch cushions here; add up all the dispersal limits at all the different levels, and we're talking about a hair over $77,000 per donation from individuals and $45,000 from PACs.

Palin's email may be about stirring up the base over the way a few scattered voices have failed to show the proper respect and deference to her.

But how many of those small-dollar donors know their money goes to pay for lawyers and other behind-the-scene types in the battleground states, where their pittance will be lost amid the flood of big-check donors? (The letter forwarded to me was received by someone in Alabama, where it's unlikely a nickel of McCain-Palin Victory 2008 money will be spent.)

Oh yeah, and from the looks of it, another place they'll be hiring (or parachuting in) lawyers is right there in Palin's home state.

But mentioning that might not be properly deferential.

(The thanks of a grateful nation to Doctor Beyond for letting us rummage through his email.)

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