Brad Smith was commenting on the fact that the campaigns of both Barack Obama and John McCain had exceeded $800 million in combined spending two weeks before Election Day. The CQ story emphasizes that "It’s not just the amount of money that was spent but also the way it was raised — much of it online, in small chunks and, in Obama’s case, completely independent of the public financing system for the first time in the post-Watergate era."
Smith, in his op-ed, says: "I’ve studied all the great fundraisers of the past, from William McKinley to Richard Nixon to George W. Bush. American politics has never seen anything remotely like this before.”
Smith is overtly partisan - he was a Republican appointee. The online discussion of Obama's citizen "juggernaut" is all the more interesting. He thinks the system has worked, even though his candidate was losing. Here are some excerpts.
Arlington, Va.: Just to counter some of the paranoid posts -- I'm one of those small donors that you fear so much. In <> early September I became so disgusted with the McCain/Palin campaign that I went to Obama's Web site and made a donation. I since have made two additional donations. All three were responses to something that was said by the McCain/Palin campaign. In all I've given less than $100. I was born in the U.S. and have lived here all my life, and despite various Republican's claims I'm not a communist or anti-American. I'm just a regular person who has every right to vote and to support a candidate with my time and money.
Bradley A. Smith: I wish more people thought like you -- not your support for Obama ;-), but regarding your motives for supporting Obama and your willingness to back up your beliefs.
Reston, Va.: McCain keeps saying that Obama is trying to buy the election. Isn't it more like the citizens are? They're the ones contributing the money.
Bradley A. Smith: Right on!
Wilmington, N.C.: "Former FEC chairman." Given your obvious political leanings, I must say I find that very disturbing. Is that a partisan political post? Should it be?
Bradley A. Smith: The FEC has six commissioners, with no more than three from any one political party. Four votes are needed for most action. So one party can't dictate outcomes. I found that the Commission worked pretty well. But you've really hit the nail on the head -- how can you maintain over time a truly unbiased political police? That's why I generally would deregulate the system, or at least start in that direction. We need separation of campaigns and state, you might say.
Maryland: The other day a friend and I were having a friendly argument. He was saying there should be more rules to limit how much a campaign can spend because $200 million is outrageous. I said "$200 million is rock-bottom cheap for a good presidential administration!" It's just a fifth of a billion dollars -- compare that to the cost of the Iraq war. Just saying.
Bradley A. Smith: You are right. Political spending needs to be kept in perspective. Americans will spend about $12 billion on potato chips this cycle. Coca-Cola will spend more on advertising this year than will be spent by all the candidates who have run for president combined. Auto makers will spend more than twice as much this year advertising cars as all political spending for federal office. It cost money to communicate, whether you are talking about cars, cola or politicians.