March 2004
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Day March 26, 2004

The Campaign Finance “Bubble”

Campaign funding is in the middle of it’s own little “Nasdaq” bubble this year. Bloomberg reports today that between Bush, 10 democratic candidates, national party committes, and outside groups, $623.4 million for the election thus far. To get a sense of how extraordinary this is, if you exclude non-candidate funding, Bush and 10 Democratic rivals have spent $242.5 million through Feb 29, 2004; contrast this to the $277.6 million that 19 candidates spent in total throughout the entire 2000 primary season.

Part of this is accounted for by the doubling of individual contribution limits to $2000, and by the front-running candidate’s decisions to decline federal aid which would have capped spending during the primary season.

This is pretty amazing stuff. It suggests that individuals and groups will spend upwards of $1 billion before this is over, possibly considerably more.

Interestingly, the myth that Democrats are being outstripped by Republican fundraising isn’t true. Through the end of February, Republican fundraising (the candidate himself, RNC, other committees) has raised $313.6 MM; Democrats have raised $309.8MM, albeit in a larger series of smaller committees. The real difference is in the warchest under direct campaign control — Bush has $171.4MM to date, versus Kerry’s $61MM.

Even more interestingly, Democrats have the largest contribution sizes overall — thanks to George Soros and others like him (Soros has helped raise $32.7MM for the Democrats by Feb. 29).

What should concern all of us is that high office is forever closed off to “ordinary” citizens. You don’t have to be personally wealthy to be elected (though it helps), but you must be extremely well-connected and well-supported. And the latter requirement says volumes for how much we can expect high office-holders to fight special interests. In that, Ralph Nader is 100% correct — but a pie-in-the-sky solution to the problem is no solution at all.

Richard Clarke’s new book

I’m about done with Richard Clarke’s new book, Against All Enemies, and have found it very interesting, very reasonable, and without any trace of real self-aggrandizement. I think the latter is fairly overrated — the guy is definitely a hard-charger, but for a self-aggrandizer, he sure hasn’t spent much of the last 30 years hogging the spotlight, has he?

Clarke is even fairly moderate in his descriptions of Bush administration behavior before and after 9/11 — if you’re expecting a book where Clarke rails against Bush and his staff (in the way that McClellan have railed against Clarke in the last week), you’ll be disappointed. But neither does Clarke pull any punches. He plainly sets out what he thinks went right, and what went wrong, over the last 20+ years since the 1979 revolution in Iran. Several folks, such as Sandy Berger, Lisa Gordon-Hagerty, Anthony Lake, George Tenet, Will Weschler, and John O’Neill of the FBI, come across as the unsung heroes of a long-standing fight to understand and plan for the terrorist threat. Clinton also comes off looking pretty well, although Clarke does have some pointed things to say about the inability of any White House, including Clinton’s, to cause great bureaucracies to “turn the ship.” The latter has probably contributed more to intelligence and policy failures than any specific decisions by presidents or their staffs, frankly.

The FBI, in particular, seems to have been particularly slow to recognize and “get serious” about the emerging threat. The CIA appears to have taken the threats fairly seriously within the Counterterrorism unit, and Tenet took it seriously, but the Operations team in general was little help and regularly failed to have assets on the ground or be capable of covert actions in response to terrorist incidents.

And naturally, the account of the Bush Administration’s lack of interest in al-Qaeda, focus on Iraq, and subsequent “War on Terror” is pretty much consistent with everyone else who’s talked publicly: Paul O’Neill, David Kay, and others who testified to the 9-11 Commission.

In all, I found the book to be an amazing history of counter-terrorist efforts in the US from the guy who’s been central to that effort. Combined with the testimony of others to the 9-11 Commission and information available in the press, it’s hard to believe that we’re not reading something which closely approximates the “straight scoop” here. Two things are amazing about the book — it’s still the #1 seller on Amazon, and how little the book’s message still seems to have permeated the majority of the country. Hopefully, this book, and further discussion of it, will start to break down the carefully sown myths about how “tough” on terrorism Bush and his advisors have been.

More when I read the final chapter…