McCain camp questions Obama fundraising

Rick Davis complains of pattern of nonresponsiveness and lack of transparency and disclosure.

By Thomas Schaller
Published October 20, 2008 3:59PM (EDT)

I'm still listening to a McCain campaign conference call, which began at 11:30 EDT Monday. But here are comments from campaign manager Rick Davis in relation to the call's main theme: Obama's fundraising numbers and transparency about them. (I'm pretty sure  anything in quotes is accurate, but this is not an official transcript.)

"Obviously, this is another historic day in a historic campaign," said Davis, referring to word Sunday about Barack Obama's amazing $150 million fundraising month of September.

Davis called it "an extraordinary amount of money and track record" for somebody who will go down as the "greatest fundraiser in political history." But, he said, the record-setting haul "brings up an important question" given that Obama promised to bring a "new transparency" to presidential politics. "What is most amazing is that regardless of repeated calls and questions from media … he has refused to, at least at this point, release names of any of his donors [who gave] under $200."

Davis said it was the first campaign "since Watergate era" to have taken a "primary fundraising campaign and driven it into the general election," saying it raises questions as to "whether these donors are qualified." He added that the McCain campaign and the RNC have or will in a few days make public information about all donors, including those donating under $200. "Our house is right," said Davis, who then wondered aloud why Obama's campaign, with "all the tools it has on its hands," won’t live up to its transparency promises.

Not sure what Davis meant by "qualified." He mentioned the sale of 30,000 Obama T-shirts in the Gaza Strip, which, he reminds, is a purchase that constitutes a contribution, from an election law standpoint. Is he suggesting there are illegal donors, or those who have contributed above the federal limits, or that there are illegal types of donations? Could be all of the above.

Davis called for an audit of Obama's fundraising, and mentioned some media report that indicates that Obama’s campaign, post-election, may end up facing the "largest fine in election history." (It was unclear what the source is for that claim.) So obviously the McCain camp thinks there are illegalities of some sort.

Davis noted that the McCain campaign, which took the $84M federal matching monies, when combined with RNC monies, will still spend roughly a combined $400 million, a record. "I think I can win a race with close to $400 million in less than two months," said Davis, adding that overall the RNC/McCain vs. DNC/Obama difference will be just a few million dollars.

(Final, related note: Is anybody going  to point out how poorly Howard Dean's fundraising has been? I realize the RNC has had the White House and the DNC has not, but still. And remember that the DCCC's Rahm Emanual and DSCC's Chuck Schumer either outraised or came darn close to outraising their Republican counterparts during the 2005-2006 cycle, when the GOP still controlled Congress. So it's hard to cite the out-of-office excuse.)

Thomas Schaller

Thomas F. Schaller is professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the author of "Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South." Follow him @schaller67.

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