The milestone is a striking display of grassroots support from roughly 1 in every 300 Americans, an unparalleled political feat. The gigantic small-donor base can give repeatedly, representing an untapped well which Obama can draw on heading into the general election.
Last night, Obama mentioned that the average contribution was $109. So far this year, the campaign has 860,000 new donors, according to a website graphic; they raised $36 million in January. The quick calculations indicate Obama’s February haul is potentially $58 million.
Left unsaid is whether the spigot will be turned off if Obama decides to accept public financing. The reasons are clear for declining – the foremost is to preserve the Democrats’ financial advantage – yet there’s the risk of appearing to compromise principles for political expediency.
However, the “just another politician” aspect doesn’t seem particularly detrimental to his candidacy. Obama has already established a reformist image, refusing donations from PACs and lobbyists while passing sweeping ethics reform legislation in the Senate. The million who have invested in the campaign are democratizing the process, removing the corrupting external influences from the political arena. Ironically, accepting public financing (and the accompanying spending limits) would force the candidates to turn to outside organizations for more funding, bringing the special interest groups into the fray again.
McCain is also undergoing criticism for his campaign finances, sparring with Howard Dean and the DNC. On another note, the longer McCain spotlights the issue, the more Republicans remember McCain-Feingold, symbolic of the senator’s frequent breaks with the party.