The Impact of Edwards’ Decision to Accept Matching Funds

The desperation move by John Edwards to accept matching funds has raised considerable concern in the liberal blogosphere that supporting Edwards for the nomination will result in putting a Republican in the White House. Kos expresses such concerns and had a campaign law expert analyze the impact of this decision:

Then come the expenditure caps, and on this there’s been confusion because there are two sets of caps.  There is a cap on per-state spending which appears bizarrely low ($1,486,433 for Iowa?) and is not what it seems — the caps only apply to television and radio advertising, or to direct mail that is sent within 28 days before the vote.

No, the real cap issue is the overall spending cap for the primaries, which lasts from the start of your campaign through the end of the Convention in late August (when you’re no longer seeking the nomination), and it’s believed to be around $43M for 2008.  And that sum includes almost everything — only “certain fundraising expenses (up to 20 percent of the expenditure limit) and legal and accounting expenses incurred solely to ensure the campaign’s compliance with the law” are exempt from that limit, and it’s those figures which bring you to the $50M+ cap generally quoted.

As to that sum, Edwards spent $9.8M over the first six months, and is estimated to have spent about $8M more this quarter.  Subtract from that the exempt expenditures, and he’s got $33-35M left to spend between now and next August.  (Obviously, if he is the nominee, he’ll have no problem raising the rest of that.)

Kos is right to be alarmed by these numbers:

This is dramatic and worse than I ever imagined. When talking to the Edwards campaign, they stressed the state limits, and how so few things applied to it (mostly advertising, and not even the full cost, at that). They neglected to tell me the far more important overall spending cap — the $50 million figure. And that’s what makes his nomination so dangerous.

No matter how much the Edwards campaign argues that this is a decision based on principle, it’s not…

No, this decision wasn’t based on principle. It was based on a simple cold calculation — Edwards isn’t raising the money that corporate-backed Hillary Clinton or people-powered Barrack Obama are raising. And as much as they claim that they had the money to compete in the early states, this was the only way Edwards could reach some kind of parity with the two big dogs in the race.

Based on winning the primary, this decision makes sense. But if it succeeds, we will have a handicapped nominee for a long, painful six months. The RNC, the GOP candidate, the conservative 527s (like Freedom Watch) will all be beating the shit out of our nominee, and without the ability to control message and directly fire back, we’ll be at a gross disadvantage.

So what would Edwards do, depend on free media? Really? The same ones that trashed Gore and Kerry, and have already done a good number on Edwards? Rely on the good sense of the voting public? Please. If you can’t talk to them, they listen to the people who can.

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