Obama's Money, Take Two

When Barack Obama pulled out of public campaign financing, I wrote a column about his money machine, noting that despite all the small Internet donors, his campaign is still mostly funded in the most traditional of ways. Numerous readers taking offense at my characterization of Obama's fundraising as dominated by "fat cats." In light of new details on Obama's fundraising which have become available, now would be a good time to revisit this issue.

The Daily News reports today that "For both candidates, Wall Street's investment and banking sectors have become among their portliest cash cows, contributing $9.5 million to Obama and $5.3 million to McCain so far." The paper notes that Obama's total Wall Street haul is just short of GW Bush's Wall Street booty at the same point in the last presidential campaign. Don 't forget that GW's campaign was seen at the time as an brash orgy of money and power.

The Daily News further notes that "records show that four out of Obama's top five contributors are employees of financial industry giants - Goldman Sachs ($571,330), UBS AG ($364,806), JPMorgan Chase ($362,207) and Citigroup ($358,054)."

(That would be the same Goldman Sachs that recently moved its chairman and CEO into Bush's cabinet as Treasury Secretary. The mega investment firm is known for its mastery of milking political connection for profit, an operation so vast it would be hard to know where to begin, but Mother Jones' recent "Goldman Sachs' Road to Riches" column is a good a place as any to start.)

Let's contrast this with some of the comments my column received:

Fat cat my ass. I'm truly sick of the media and republicans thinking we're all fools. Sen. Obama's cash has come for working people, who I add just might happen to have $2,300 to donate -- $2,300 is a long way away from being a fat cat!!

$50 a month for the past six months makes me a fat cat??? That's less than my cable bill . . . does that make my cable company beholden to me, too???

Folks, I am delighted that you, like me, are giving money to Barack Obama. But let's be real: the fact that you or I can scrape together a string of small donations that might total more than $200 does not put us in a league with fat cats who can walk through their executive suites or their gated communities collecting piles of checks for $2300. Surely you are not that naive.

In his New York Times column today, David Brooks looks at the recently released campaign finance information and concludes, "Over the past few years, people from Goldman Sachs have assumed control over large parts of the federal government. Over the next few they might just take over the whole darn thing."

In all seriousness, this is not an outcome I would be opposed to. Having Goldman Sachs run the government would be a huge step up from having Halliburton run it. Really. For starters, I don't think Goldman Sachs would push the country into disastrous foreign wars. And the barons of Wall Street, whose bread and butter is analysis of financial risk, are not in the sort of denial about global warming that dominates the present administration. In fact, Goldman Sachs has significant investment in solar energy.

So yes, let's trade an administration dominated by people who make their money in oil and weapons for one dominated by people who make their money in mortgages and information technology. Hooray! I desperately want Obama to win. I hope Wall Street gives him $10 million more.

But I still stand, more than ever, behind the argument of my previous column: that adding a layer of small Internet donations (45% of Obama's money) on top of all the traditional campaign money (55% of Obama's money) does not change the game of politics and money. It just adds another layer to the same old cake. To really change the game, one would need to replace all that traditional money with small Internet donations.