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Obama's war chest vs. public financing

Barack Obama helps volunteers make phone calls at the Obama campaign headquarters in Kansas City, Mo., on October 18, 2008.

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Tess Vigeland:
The presidential candidates released their latest money figures and Democrat Barack Obama shattered fundraising records once again. The sum total of his haul: $150 million. In September. Republican nominee John McCain is limited to the $84 million in public financing he accepted after the convention. Ken Vogel writes for Politico.com, and we've asked him to evaluate what all this means for campaign financing in general. Welcome to the program.

Ken Vogel: Hey, great to be with you Tess.

Vigeland: So, how surprising is this number, $150 million in one month?

Vogel: Yeah, it's pretty shocking there is no real precedent in campaign finance history. First of all, there is no precedent for anyone in the modern era actually turning down the public financing grant. So, when Obama did that, a lot of folks were kind of wondering: Hey, is this going to be a good decision? There's certainly a lot of risk here. This proves this was a great decision.

Vigeland: What does this say for the future of public financing? I mean, is it dead at this point given that you can raise so much money outside of the system?

Vogel: It's on life support. I don't think it's dead yet because I don't think there are too many candidates who have this kind of fundraising ability. Not just the ability to tap small donors, but to tap such a wide network of small donors, almost without lifting a finger. Sure, he has his web team out there, but he's not working the rubber chicken circuit. He's not taking a whole lot of time off of the campaign trail to go raise money. There aren't too many candidates about whom you could say that.

Vigeland: I think one of the big criticisms of the public financing program is that it's just not realistic. Eighty-four million dollars for the presidential campaign, just sounds like it's not a lot of money. Do you think we will be seeing adjustments to that figure? Or will we potentially see a wholesale overhaul of the public financing system?

Vogel: I think we will see efforts to do both. And certainly there have been efforts to do both in previous years, including some sponsored by John McCain and Barack Obama. But, there just hasn't been a whole lot of appetite, folks who fill out their tax form, have the option of checking off that $3 box to donate money. A lot of folks don't check it, including Sarah Palin. Including Barack Obama on the first four set of taxes that he provided for 2007 to members of the meeting. Subsequently provided additional form that did show that he checked that box. But even if they were to increase the set aside so that, say, you could check off for $5 -- questions about whether folks would actually check the box.

Vigeland: There have been so many efforts to reform this system and none of it really seems to get the job done. Is there anything that could get the job done?

Vogel: Well, short of a major scandal, I don't think that there is a whole lot. Let's not forget that both of these candidates coming in, actually were known as campaign finance reformers. This is not an issue that is tremendously popular with the American people, it's kind of a wonky issue. So, the fact that we actually had two campaign finance reformers, you know, win their party's nomination. And yet still we see this dissolution of the very framework we've come to think of as kind of underguarding the campaign finance system, I think is pretty telling.

Vigeland: Ken Vogel of Politico.com, thanks so much.

Vogel: Hey thank you.

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