Opinion: ’08 Campaign costs nearing $2 Billion. Is it worth it?

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Well, you better be enjoying all this presidential political theatre because it’s costing America way, way more than any Hollywood blockbuster dud.

According to new tallies by the Campaign Finance Institute, the Center for Responsive Politics and the watchdog group Democracy 21, federal presidential and congressional candidates, the national parties, and the unaffiliated 527 groups have raised $1.71 billion during this election cycle.


And that was just as of Jan. 31.

That ensuing month Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama put....

their pedals to the metal. Obama, for instance, has raised close to $100 million of his $230 million total just since the end of January when all the presidential candidates had raised ‘only’ about $800 million.

Remember, that’s all done with limits on personal contributions to presidential candidates of $2,300 per person, per year. As The Ticket noted Tuesday morning, Obama had 218,000 ‘new’ contributors just last month.

There are no such donor limits on giving to 527 groups, those entities regulated by the Federal Election Commission and the Internal Revenue Service that produce issue ads that technically do not support individual candidates. But, boy, can they go after one candidate.

According to the Campaign Finance Institute, those 527 groups are ‘alive and well,’ even after they were more tightly regulated following the 2004 elections. (You might remember Swift Boat Veterans for Truth; John Kerry surely does.)

As of Jan. 31, 527 groups had raised $77 million during this cycle, but they’re just getting going. In 2004, they raised $424 million and they’re running ahedad of that pace this quadrennial time around.

The institute notes that despite the notoriety of those Swift Boat ads -- to swiftobat someone has even nbecome a widely-used expression for smearing -- 527s remain largely a Democratic phenomenon. Groups oriented groups oriented toward supporting Democratic candidates are outraising those oriented toward helping Republicans by a 2.5 to 1 margin.


The Democratic-leaning groups are largely fueled by labor unions and wealthy individuals, the institute says in its report. Giving to the Republicans like Sen. John McCain is lagging all around this cycle.

--James Oliphant

James Oliphant is a writer for the Swamp of the Chicago Tribune Washington Bureau.