Isn’t this what public financing should be?

Photo by: Tracy Olson

This is not a political post.* It’s an observation of an ironic application of the term “public financing” as it is used in this article in the New York Times (my bold for emphasis):

Mr. Obama’s startling success (at raising funds from small contributions online has) now put him on the spot, tempting him to back away from indications he gave last year that he would agree to accept public financing in the general election if the Republican nominee did the same.”

Read the whole article. If you’re fascinated with online commerce or social media or web-based advocacy, it reports a phenomenal (a word that doesn’t come close to capturing its gravity, however) accomplishment: The Obama campaign collected $36 million in January “overwhelmingly by small online donations.” As in, contributions from “the public.”

Okay. Here comes the irony. I can’t think of a political point of view — right or left — that would disagree with the notion that the most perfect form of campaign financing is that whereby individual citizens make small donations to the candidate of their choice. The kind that the Internet enables. The kind that anyone with a phone who knows how to dial an 800 number can make. Even those on the left must surely agree that what Obama is doing beats a government-run “public” method. Those on the right must surely admit what Obama’s contributors are doing is an incredible display of patriotism and individualism. Isn’t this the kind of citizen-generated financing that both conservatives and liberals should applaud? No $1,000 a plate fundraisers. No fake survey direct mail. No Labor-Union or corporate fat-cat PACs. (Note: I’m sure the Obama campaign had its share of traditional fund-raising activities, but the recent explosion of funds came by from small contributions pouring in online.)

Again, this is not a political post.* It’s merely an observation that I believe we’re seeing what “public” financing probably should be — and it’s not exactly comforting for some on the right — or left.

*Whenever I start out a post saying, “this is not a political post,” it’s a surefire indication that it is.