Jonathan Alter, Part 2: Campaign Finance Deception

Perhaps you saw where I exposed "liberal" Newsweek columnist and Obama fan Jonathan Alter as a racist – evoking a very unconvincing denial from him in the comments section of Black Agenda Report three weeks back.  It was an instructive and entertaining little moment on the Web.

Basically, I discovered and wrote about Alter’s astonishing argument that Barack Obama could be a significant president even if he failed to handle foreign and domestic policy in positive and effective ways. 

In what sense does the supposed anti-racist liberal Alter think that such an Obama presidency would still leave a significant and good imprint, according to Alter, you ask? According to Alter, a president Obama would tell and show black people how to act better…to stop being so damn dysfunctional and to start taking responsibility for their own problems.  

I’m not making that up. That’s actually what (in so many words) Alter essentially and actually argued in a March 31st Newsweek column titled "The Obama Dividend." Read it yourself and laugh…or weep.

See also his disturbing anticipation of this chilling argument in a March 10th column titled "How Much Change is Change?"

No, nothing racist there.  Not at all.

Now it is my sorry duty to report more ridiculous absurdity from Alter.

In an April 28th Newsweek column titled "Adios. Sound Bites and Fat Cats," the"liberal" Alter tells us that big rich "fat cats" no longer control U.S. politics "when you have a candidate for president like Obama who boasts more than 1.3 million donors with an average contribution of only about $100…Consider the magnitude fo the change," Alter writes: "in 2004, President Bush and Sen. John Kerry raised about 30 percent of their war chests in amounts of $200 or less.  By contrast, about 90 percent of Obama’s contributors are small fry." 

Now, don’t get me wrong: Obama does have a lot of small donors, but take a look at that last Alter sentence again.  Does anything smell fishy? Please note the false comparison between the great Obama ’08 on one hand and Bush-Kerry ’04 on the other hand. 

This is important.  read it again.

When Alter talks about the Bush and Kerry four years ago, its about the percentage of total dollar haul that came from small contributors – a number that by its very nature is smaller than the percentage of individual contributors who were small contributors (defined as givers of $200 and less). When Alter talks about his hero Obama (whose assault on supposedly dysfunctional black-American culture will make him a good president even if he turns out to be a policy failure), however, it’s about the percentage of contributors who gave small amounts.  That number is inherently larger than the share of total dollars from small contributors.

How creepily deceptive is that?

For what it’s worth, Obama is very much a high-roller who has been getting remarkable big money "bundled" contributions from the rich and powerful Wall-Street/K-Street/corporate America /money-politics nexus of "election investors" who dominate our "market democracy" (Edward Herman’s term).  Leading Obama sponsors include Goldman Sachs, UBS, Lehman Brothers and the nucelear plant operator Exelon — the secret to his interesting belief that we really ought to take a look at (the incredibly expensive and dangerous and already tried option of ) nuclear power as "part of the solution" to our energy and climate dilemmas.

At the same time, of course, the Obama phenomenon has been given unparalleled favor by the God-like fat cat corporate media powers that be (Alter’s employers) — the silly recent behavior or Charles Gibson and George Stephanopolous notwithstanding.

For or all its talk of a million contributors giving to him in "$25 and $50 increments," the Obama campaign did not  rely primarily on small donors in 2007.  An important study released by the Campaign Finance Institute in early February of 2008 showed that only Dennis Kucinich, Mike Gravel, Ron Paul, and Tom Tancredo had raised even half their 2007 presidential campaign funds from "small donors" (those giving $200 or less). Obama received just 32 percent of his campaign funding from such donors, less than Tancredo (81 percent), Kucinich (74 percent), Paul (61 percent), Gravel (61), and Edwards (36), but more than McCain (25 percent), Hillary Clinton (14), Romney (12), and Guliani (8).

According to the Center for Reponsive Politics, Obama’s top contributors through 2007 included investment bankers Goldman Sachs (number 1 at $421,763 for the year 2007), UBS-AG (#2 at $296,670), Lehman Bros. (# 3 at $250,630), and J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. (#5 at $243,848), utility (add nuclear) giant Exelon Corp (#8 at $221,517), and media giants Time Warner (#13 at $155,383) and Google Inc (#15 at $152,802) and the giant, multinational, and heavily corporate-globalizationist law firms Skadden,Arps et al ($229,000), Kirkland & Ellis ($163,000), and Latham & Watkins ($161,000). Obama received a total of $11.2 million from law firms, $7 million from securities and investments firms, $3.2 million from the health care sector, $3 million from real estate firms, $2.7 million from corporate media, $2.6 million from business service firms, $1.7 from computer and Internet firms, and $1.17 million from commercial banks. He received just $48,000 from American labor unions

Those who care about looking at harsh reality beyond Alter’s fantasy world might also be interested in an April 11 Washington Post article titled "Big Donors Among Obama’s Grassroots."  By early April, Post reporters Mathew Mosk and Alec McGillis noted, "Obama claimed that his presidential campaign had created ‘a parallel public financing system’" based on "a wave of modest donations from homemakers and high school teachers. ‘Small givers,’ he said at a fundraiser, ‘will have as much access and influence over the course and direction of our campaign as has traditionally been reserved for the wealthy and powerful.’"

This assertion struck Mosk and McGillis as less than fully credible. They observed that people "with wealth and power" had "played a critical role in creating Obama’s record-breaking fundraising machine, and their generosity earned them a prominent voice in shaping his campaign." Of particular interest, the Post reporters found that Obama had received support from "seventy-nine ‘bundlers,’ five of them millionaries," who "have tapped their personal networks to raise at least $200,000 each. They have helped the campaign recruit more than 27,000 to write checks for $2,300, the maximum allowed." See Matthew Mosk and Alex McGillis, "Big Donors Among Obama’s Grass Roots," Washington Post, 11 April, 2008, p. A1 – linked above. 

Mosk and McGillis have Obama now getting about half of his total dollar haul so far from smaller contributors ($200 and below).  That’s impressive but its far below the 90 percent of contributors (not contibutions) Alter deviously cites. It hardly counters the disproportionate influence of Goldman Sachs, Exelon et al. and the corporate media fat cats.  And please remember that NBC (GE) ABC (Disney), CNN, FOX, and CBS et al, don’t have to donate $1 in order to exercise God-like plutocratic power over "our" dollar democracy. People like Alter are worth millions to corporate candidates like Obama.



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