Barack Obama’s fundraising prowess has been much discussed of late. One question discussed is whether President-Elect Obama, by foregoing government funding of his campaign, betrayed his own stated principles in favor of tax funding of campaigns.
Many of Obama’s supporters have justified his decision to rely on voluntary contributions rather than taxpayer subsidies by arguing that the Obama campaign was different. It was a new type of "public financing," by bringing in millions of small contributors, so Obama was still not beholden to special interests. This is a nice dance tune, but it’s not entirely true: yes, Obama did bring in unprecedented numbers of new donors, and did raise unprecedented amounts in small contributions, but he also raised unprecedented amounts in large contributions, at least as those have typically been defined in the field of campaign finance law, and his percentage of small donations is not much different than that of George W. Bush in his two presidential runs.
But wait a minute: does the concept of "large donors" and "small donors" make any sense under the current campaign finance contribution limits? And if it does not, can those limits be constitutionally justified at all?
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