THE BLOG
10/22/2012 09:22 am ET | Updated Dec 22, 2012

An Open Letter To The Obama Campaign: I Don't Think Grassroots Means What You Think It Means

Dear Barack, Michelle, Joe, David and someone named Julianna Smoot:

Over the past few months you've been emailing me an awful lot. You want me to help bankroll your "grassroots" campaign. Based on the tone of your emails, things sound pretty dire.

"Look, you've really got to get involved here," began a recent digital missive from Joe Biden.

"Dana, I'll be blunt," began another, from campaign manager David Axelrod. "We're about to get hit with an avalanche of negative ads."

Your campaign, you've been telling me, is getting outspent and out-nastied by Mitt Romney and his banker buddies. You really need my money -- in at least $25 increments -- in order to win in November.

"The election is in your hands," Michelle Obama told me in one of 11 messages she has sent me in the past 30 days.

Hey man (as Biden might say): I'm not buying the paradigm that you are selling. Grassroots means natural or spontaneous. Your fundraising operation, in contrast, is methodical, ruthless and huge. It is the Death Star, a moon-sized weapon that you used to obliterate John McCain four years ago, outspending him by a 3-to-1 margin.

You imply that you are the underdog in the current fundraising fight, getting by on ketchup packets and Greyhound vouchers while Romney's staffers wear diamond-encrusted underpants and travel by jetpack. But you have out-raised and outspent your opponent so far.

As of Oct. 1, your campaign had raised $432 million, compared to Romney's $258 million. In September alone you hauled in $183 million, to Romney's $170 million.

Also -- and this is awkward -- you keep calling me Dana. I think you have me confused with my wife.

Listen, I get it. The U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision a few years ago upended the campaign finance status quo (well, more like pulverized it with a meat mallet and fed it to angry bears). Individual donations don't count for as much as they once did.

Tally up all the donations to your campaign from employees of the University of California, Microsoft, Google, Harvard University and the U.S. government, for example -- your top 5 donors, grouped by employer -- and you've raked in about $2.7 million.

Meanwhile, one really rich guy, the Houston real estate developer Bob Perry, who previously helped finance the despicable "Swift Boat Veterans For Truth" ads that questioned John Kerry's war record and helped spike his candidacy, has donated $8 million to Romney's primary Super Pac, "Restore Our Future."

When it comes to these sort of unlimited donations, new to this election cycle, you are getting blasted, out-raised more than 2-to-1.

So I have some sympathy here. These groups allow one really rich individual to play an outsized role in our political process. But let's remember: this is an arms race you helped start.

In 2008, your campaign became the first in U.S. history to opt out of the public financing system for the general election. In one month, September 2008, you raised $192 million. McCain made do with $83 million for the entire general election season.

Had you and Romney opted in to the public finance system this time around you would both have $91 million to spend during the general election.

That didn't happen this year, and will never happen again.

"No Republican in his or her right mind is going to agree to public financing," McCain told the Washington Times after the last election. "I mean, that's dead. That is over. The last candidate for president of the United States from a major party that will take public financing was me."

And nor will any Democrat, knowing that Republicans will continue to win the race to convince their wealthy friends to support the outside groups.

So here we are, stuck in a cycle of ask and spend, as the fundraising machine churns on, all in an effort to convince a few thousand indecisive people in a handful of swing states to make up their minds.

Your campaign has already spent more than $300 million on television advertising alone, according to the National Journal, an amount that puts you on track to nearly double your own record-breaking pace of four years ago.

According to the Center for Public Integrity, outside spending groups spent $212.8 million political advertising in the first 16 days of October.

Steve Inskeep, the co-host of NPR's Morning Edition, recently described the experience of watching TV on a recent Sunday in the Northern Virginia market as "basically continuous political ads, occasionally interrupted by a football game."

Call me old-fashioned, but I don't think elections should hinge on who has the biggest email list or the wealthiest pals. There's not much I can do about it, except not to give, which is already my position as a journalist.

Well, there is one little thing. I recently did something I never imagined doing. I set my spam filter to delete incoming messages from the president of the United States. The first lady, and all the staffers, too.

Tell Bill Clinton if he keeps harassing me, he's next.

Good luck,

Ben