We’ve heard a lot recently about President Obama’s fundraising. One journalist reports that, so far, the President has attended 160 reelection fundraisers — twice as many as President Bush had at the same time in his 2004 re-election bid.
I’m not a Polyanna about fundraising. Modern presidential campaigns are crushingly expensive. A President seeking reelection needs to raise lots of money, and no one is going to be a more effective at it than the President himself. The inevitable consequence is that the President will spend a lot of time at fundraisers, hobnobbing with high-rollers and collecting their checks.
There’s an unseemliness to the emphasis on cash, cash, cash and the President’s involvement in raising it, but we’re beyond the point of worrying about unseemliness in modern politics. Instead, I’ve been thinking about the impact of constant fundraising on the President’s ability to perform other important parts of his job — such as working with Congress and trying to build the kinds of coalitions needed to pass legislation.
The focus on fundraising interferes with the President’s relations with Congress in at least two ways. First, there are only so many waking hours in the day. Every hour spent on the rubber-chicken circuit is one that could have been spent strategizing with congressional allies, schmoozing opponents, or seeking points of potential compromise on important legislation. What’s more likely to break the stalemate in Congress — another glitzy fundraiser in Hollywood, or a weekend retreat to Camp David with House and Senate leaders, or wavering Members of Congress who might be persuaded to vote for a presidential initiative? Politics is personal, and if a President doesn’t regularly offer the personal touch, he is bound to be less effective in his relations with Congress.
Second, the President gives a speech at every fundraiser. What does he typically talk about, to fire up his supporters and spur them to write bigger checks? Why, it’s the “do-nothing” Congress that won’t act on his agenda. So the fundraising grind exacts a dual toll — the President not only is taken away from Washington and the opportunity to spur the legislative process, but he also bashes Congress and thereby reduces his chances of achieving consensus in the future.
President Obama wants to win re-election, and he and his advisers know that he needs money to achieve that goal. I understand why he’s doing what he’s doing. Still, I can’t help but think that it would be better for the country — and for President Obama, too — if he spent less time at black tie galas and more time with Senators and Representatives, slapping backs and twisting arms.