Dean with a Small 'D'

The Nation, December 1, 2003 | Go to article overview

Dean with a Small 'D'


Now we know why George W. Bush signed the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill. He understood that the provision most directly affecting his future--the doubling of individual contribution limits to $2,000-would automatically double the size of his already record-breaking financial base. His initially stated fundraising goal of $170 million, which his campaign officials now say will not be enough, is likely to rise to a quarter-billion dollars or higher. This threatens to tilt the electoral playing field into a vertical rock-climb for his Democratic challenger.

Bush is thereby gutting the public financing system for the presidential primaries. Howard Dean's decision to be the first Democrat ever to opt out of that system must be seen in that context. When it became clear that Dean could exceed the $45 million cap that comes with taking public matching funds, staying in became self-defeating. Some candidates criticized Dean, but they would have done the same if they'd raised $25 million, mostly in contributions of $200 or less. This is small-d democracy, as in "small donor." Dick Gephardt, the only top-tier Democrat not to sign a pledge written by six campaign--reform groups (Public Campaign, Public Citizen, Common Cause, USPIRG, the League of Women Voters and Democracy 21) because he claimed that the pledge didn't bind candidates to the system during the current cycle, is the most hypocritical--his union backers plan to spend significant sums in his behalf in Iowa and other early-primary states.

Dennis Kucinich, who blasted Dean for breaking his promise to stay in the system, accused the wrong guy of "attempt[ing] to kill public financing" and "take back America--for the corporations." That guy is Bush, not Dean. John Kerry simultaneously attacked Dean's move and hinted that he would opt out too (an announcement was scheduled for November 13), another example of how he keeps contradicting himself. …

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