Tag: obama

Seat at the Table

The Obama-Biden Transition Project has some really excellent branding and PR.  Its name along makes me think of some kind of jazz fusion supergroup.  But it also appears to be making true progress towards government transparency, which is encouraging.

I just learned about the Project’s “Seat at the Table” Transparency policy, which is summed up in this public memo:

From: John Podesta
To: All Obama Transition Project Staff
Date: December 5, 2008
Re: “Seat at the Table” Transparency Policy – EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY

As an extension of the unprecedented ethics guidelines already in place for the Obama-Biden Transition Project, we take another significant step towards transparency of our efforts for the American people. Every day, we meet with organizations who present ideas for the Transition and the Administration, both orally and in writing. We want to ensure that we give the American people a “seat at the table” and that we receive the benefit of their feedback.

Accordingly, any documents from official meetings with outside organizations will be posted on our website for people to review and comment on. In addition to presenting ideas as individuals at http://www.change.gov, the American people deserve a “seat at the table” as we receive input from organizations and make decisions. In the interest of protecting the personal privacy of individuals, this policy does not apply to personnel matters and hiring recommendations.

This is obviously great stuff. But I’m just as struck by Obama’s team’s continued mastery of PR and marketing. It’s like he’s still campaigning. The memo is addressed to “All Obama Transition Project Staff”, but it’s also clearly written for the public audience, opening with a reminder, in case you hadn’t heard, of “the unprecedented ethics guidelines already in place,” and then following through with an enforcement of the branding of the policy as “Seat at the Table.” And then it comes with a video commercial!

Don’t get me wrong–I’m not bothered by this. I am more amazed by Obama’s continued attention to his public image. It will keep people mobilized around him, and keep him a rock star in the public eye. And it’s because he’s got a lot of great, talented marketing experts working for him.

During the campaign, I was concerned about the role of money and technical expertise in politics. There is a democratic ideal that is is based on a fantasy of equal access to resources, an ideal with which I cannot fully part. But I spoke the other day with a friend who worked in the Obama campaign as a field organizar, and asked her what she thought legitimized an elected official. Her answer was telling, and maybe more relevant to the times: people being excited and mobilized and willing to pitch in for the candidate. If that norm of legitimacy is the standard across those touched by the Obama campaign and administration, then this sort of branding is exactly what he should be doing.

Thanks to Josh Bronson for the heads up on “Seat at the Table.”

Public vs. grassroots campaign financing (part 1)

John McCain has long been seen as a congressional crusader for campaign finance reform. It now looks like Obama will fund his general election campaign largely through small, ‘grassroots’ donations from supporters. Each candidate is trying to take the moral high ground regarding his funding choices. That raises the question: which is better, public campaign financing from the state or grassroots funding from small donors?

When looking into this question, it’s important that we keep our eyes on the prize. Ideally, sources of campaign funding would have no influence on who can run and get elected. The argument for this is simple. Money is not evenly distributed; access to political representation should be.

In this light, ‘grassroots’ funding is a step forward, but problematic. On the one hand, it does diminish the influence of lobbyists and special interest PACs. But on the other, the fact remains that most ‘grassroots’ contributions are not from average citizens after all, but from the wealthier-than-average. See Jay Mandle’s Washington Post article for the numbers on this. Although certainly admirable, the success of Obama’s ‘grassroots’ fund raising relative to, say, Clinton’s, when one considers that Obama was more popular among wealthier Democrats. His base was better able to afford to make $200 contributions.

So to some extent, grassroots funding devolves the problem of money in politics from a problem of special interests to a problem of class interests. This shift looks even more dramatic when one considers that special interests are often indirectly representing working class interests (for example, in the form of unions).


Anil Makhijani pointed me to a New York Times article on Obama’s announcement to forgo the federal public campaign financing system and the spending limits it entails. It’s an important story that’s worth a read. But speaking of e-campaigning, there;s one detail in particular that caught my eye:

Mr. Obama announced his campaign finance decision in a video message sent to supporters and posted on the Internet.

Click here to see the video.

I am far from the first to bring this up, but Obama’s use of the internet in his campaign is amazing. I’ve heard the analogy has been made between FDR and radio, Reagan and television, and now Obama and the internet; each mastered a new communications medium and used it to great effect to rally and expand their base.

What seems special about Obama’s use of the internet is that it allows him to eschew mainstream media outlets entirely when he needs to. Rather, he is using tools communication that are available to all of us: videos posted on the Internet. There is something compelling about this use of popular tools to reach the populace. It places him not just in living rooms, but in social networks; however distantly he may be from you or I, he is present in the same space.

This ties directly back to his fund raising efforts, of course. By existing, virtually, among his supporters instead of transcending them, he can ask for the millions of small donations for which his campaign is famous. Institutions–even the institution of the Democratic party itself–are made obsolete as an intermediary.

DNC reject lobbyist money

This is week-old news by now, but I just saw this New York Times article.

The Democratic National Committee, now operating under Barack Obama’s fundraising rules, on Friday returned about $100,000 in money from lobbyists and political action committees.

The donations were already ”in the pipeline” when Obama, the presumed Democratic presidential nominee, instituted the standards for the committee, a party official said.

Generally speaking, I am deeply suspicious of party politics in the US. As the upcoming Newell/Silver election in AD-64 shows, party allegiance indicates almost nothing about whether a politician stands for real reforms. One of the appealing things about Obama, to me, was his apparent rejection of the party machine.

Perhaps this is a sign that Obama’s reform principles are politically infectious.

Thanks to Kailin Clarke for the tip.