Tapped Out


This is not easy to write, because I consider the election of Barack Obama to be one of the most inspiring political and social developments of my lifetime. I truly mean no disrespect when I say: Stop asking for money!

For a column last spring I signed up to receive e-mails from all the major presidential campaigns. Not surprisingly, the recurrent theme in the almost-daily messages was: donate money. After Hillary Clinton dropped out her pleas for donations actually increased; just last week, supporters received another letter seeking funds to retire Clinton's campaign debt.

A week after the election, David Plouffe, the head of Obama for America, wrote: "We've been reviewing the books, and the DNC went into considerable debt to secure victory for Barack and Joe . . . Please make a donation of $250 or more today and receive your Obama Victory T-shirt."

Americans barely have the stomach, or the funds, to bail out the banks, the automakers and various foreign governments. Now the Democratic National Committee is seeking a handout?

Obama forces raised more than $600 million during the campaign, including an astounding $150 million in September. In a video message to supporters, Plouffe indicated that over 3 million individuals had given money.

The Federal Election Commission reports that the grand total raised by all presidential candidates exceeded $1.5 billion. When you consider that what Americans basically purchased with all that hard-earned cash is one person to run the country, that's a rather remarkable sum.

But now, despite the extent to which Americans have supported the Obama campaign, comes Plouffe again with an e-mail I find particularly riling. "Will you support the Obama-Biden transition," he wrote on Nov. 21, "with a donation of $250 or more?" Money from “grass-roots supporters,” he claimed, will avoid the "secretive undertakings" of previous presidential transitions.

Taxpayers are already funding the Obama transition to the tune of $6.3 million. Apparently that's not enough, which is why tapped-out contributors are being asked to dig deeper into their pockets. Unlike election financing, in which Team Obama had to forgo taxpayer money when opting for private donations, in transition financing it can keep all the taxpayer money plus whatever comes in from those with anything left under the mattress.

Records concerning transitions are a bit fuzzy, but it's thought that Ronald Reagan raised about $1.25 million in private funds for his 1980 transition. That led to something called the Presidential Transitions Effectiveness Act, which calls for the disclosure of transition contributors. The act stipulates that transition money is not considered a political donation - which is why Obama's list of supporters can now be mined for more cash, regardless of how much each contributor gave during the campaign.

What's next? The Fund for White House Basketball Uniforms? The Committee to Select the Obama Kids' Dog? After all, Americans wouldn't want secretive poodle breeders influencing the canine transition process.

Some loyal Democrats may be under the impression that it's the Republicans who believe most problems can be solved by leaving them to the private sector. As a member of that sector, I need a break from e-mails seeking more money.

Before contributing to the Obama transition team, Americans deserve a chance to ask David Plouffe: Will you raise your hand if you or other members of your senior staff are flying to the inauguration by commercial airlines? Please include the answer in your next e-mail.

© Peter Funt. This column first appeared in The Washington Post.


Footnote: After this column was printed in The Washington Post it brought a flood of responses. Many Obama supporters urged me to "get a Spam blocker," or simply delete the e-mails if I didn't care to contribute money.

My point, of course, is that the constant pleas for money is tacky, and might even hurt the Obama forces in the future if those whose hands are doing the feeding feel bitten.

Several readers uncovered a marketing twist I had overlooked. While e-mails I received asked for "$250," some of theirs sought only $25 or $30. Apparently the Obama campaign machinery is so sophisticated that it tailors the request to past donations.

It leaves me impressed with the technology, but more convinced than ever about the need for meaningful campaign finance reform.

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