Barack Obama (D-IL) made it as official as we’ve ever heard. His campaign has specifically asked donors to refrain from sending cash to so-called 527 organizations, which can fund advertising with soft money via a tax loophole and which are also notorious for viciously negative advertising.
A major thrust of the Obama campaign has been an effort to remain positive in an effort to bring people together, and he does not want that message undermined by negative messages coming from sources beyond his control. According to Capitol Hill newspaper Politico, Obama staffer Bill Burton said, “From the beginning of this race Obama has told supporters that if they want to help his effort, they should do so through his campaign.”
The John McCain (R-AZ) campaign has also said it would avoid negative campaigning, but it has not come out in opposition to outside groups as specifically as the recent communications from Obama’s campaign. When a North Carolina Republican group went after Obama recently, McCain asked them to stop but did little else to end the group’s ads.
Politico notes that it is commonplace for politicians to publicly condemn negative advertising from outside groups while privately winking at the advertisers, allowing them to sling the mud while the candidate seemingly stays above the fray.
527 groups operated throughout the 2004 campaign, most notably Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, Moveon.org and Club for Growth. The FCC got around to fining many of them well after the election was in history books. Moveon is still around, but relies on hard money for its independent campaigns. And according to the Washington Post, Swift Boat veteran Chris LaCivita has vowed to hit Obama “viciously” regardless of what McCain thinks. He said it’s a matter of free speech.
RBR/TVBR observation: The usefulness of 527s really was thrown into question by the belated FEC fines. The 527 clause exists to protect issue-oriented organizations and their right to promote their views. The groups getting fined were deemed by FEC to have crossed the line into political action committee-territory. But with personal campaign donations limited, the 527s offer an excellent place for a politically-motivated multimillionaire to park large sums of money.
Campaigns are getting better at turning the tables on various forms of negativity these days. When pundit Ann Coulter attacked John Edwards (D-NC) last year, his campaign used the incident, successfully, as a fund-raising tool. And the Obama campaign used the North Carolina incident to pose a loaded question: Is McCain winking at the negative proxy ads or is he too weak to stop them?
The bottom line is that despite all recent attempts to stem the flow of cash into the political system, the volume simply keeps rising. We suspect that regardless of the candidates’ wishes, that will remain the case in 2008.