Post Politics Hour

Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Campaign Finance Reporter
Tuesday, April 22, 2008; 11:00 AM

Don't want to miss out on the latest in politics? Start each day with The Post Politics Hour. Join in each weekday morning at 11 a.m. as a member of The Washington Post's team of White House and Congressional reporters answers questions about the latest in buzz in Washington and The Post's coverage of political news.

Washington Post campaign finance reporter Matthew Mosk was online Tuesday, April 22 at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest news in politics.

The transcript follows.

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Archive: Post Politics Hour discussion transcripts


Matthew Mosk: It's game day, folks. So what better day than this to have a chat about presidential politics? I welcome your predictions, prognostications, suspicions, theories and thoughts ... truth is, on this one I don't think the pundits have any idea what to expect, other than all signs point to a Hillary Clinton victory of some sort. At least, that's if you believe the latest polling on this Web site. But the poll that matters is being conducted now. Look forward to your thoughts.


Chicago: Good morning and thanks for chatting. How significant will the great disparity in financial resources between the Clinton and Obama campaigns be going forward? If I read the numbers right, he has about $40 million and she's $10 million in debt. If she doesn't win Pennsylvania by a big enough margin, can she do anything to turn the money taps on again? Is the thing that ultimately drives her out of the race a lack of funds to compete with Obama? Isn't a lack of funds the thing that ends a lot of campaigns? Clinton Campaign Facing Deepening Debt to Advisers (Post, April 22)

Matthew Mosk: This is a good question to start with, since I think this is the issue that could have the most significant impact on the campaign moving forward. The numbers aren't quite right. First of all, these reflect the money the campaigns had at the end of March, which is now three weeks ago. Sen. Clinton's cash on hand was about $9 million and her debt was about $10 million (including $5 million she owes herself) so she was technically about $1 million in the hole. The most interesting question facing her campaign is whether they can trust the flow of money they have seen over the Internet. It is a very volatile source of cash. If she does well in Pennsylvania, she should see an infusion of money flow in online. If she underperforms, though, and that money doesn't show up, she could face a serious financial situation. Then the question becomes, does she loan herself more money? Does she scale back the campaign? It's a tough set of choices.


Green Bay, Wis.: Ask a black man, Roosevelt Johnson, why he is voting for Obama and he says, "because he is black like me." Ask Jim Jones, a white man, why is voting for Clinton and he says "because she is white like me" Only Jones is labeled a "racist." Duh!? If we did not have such a bunch of cowardly "journalists" they would point out that it is a fact that most blacks are voting for Obama simply because he is black. In This Forgotten Town, Obama Can Forget About It (Post, April 22)

Matthew Mosk: This is an incendiary question, which I am hesitant to deal with. But I will offer this reflection. I lived in Baltimore in the late 1990s when everyone said a majority black city would never elect a white mayor. And yet, that's exactly what happened. I also lived in Los Angeles in the 1980s when a majority white city elected a black mayor. Ultimately, I think the choices voters make center on a whole range of factors and race is not always (or even often) a central one of those. To boil an election like this down to a question of race would be a gross oversimplification, and a disservice to the readers.


Washington: So if John McCain wasn't married to Cindy his income would have only been $405,000. What is the 10-year number, and how long will it take to hound the McCain political machine into releasing the Cindy McCain tax return information? Despite the McCain campaign spokesmen's repeated assertions that Kerry/Heinz did not release her tax returns, she did release the first two pages. When will the press demand the same level of transparency from Mr. "Straight Talk"? Or is that too much to expect from The Post's crack reporters and others from Washington insider press corps? McCain Releases Tax Returns (Post, April 19)

Matthew Mosk: Boy, this is a cranky lot out here today!

And yet, this is an excellent question. The Post made sure to highlight the shortcomings in Sen. McCain's release of his tax returns last Friday. I have heard some strong arguments for why the public deserves to see not only his returns, but also those of his wife. For one thing, it is his wife's money that supports his lifestyle, and any business financial dealings she has could have a bearing on his work as president.

McCain's position has been that she has a right to privacy. I don't take lightly a demand for privacy by anyone when it comes to their children and their family. But the truth is, much of that privacy has already been pried loose with the publication of Sen. McCain's financial disclosure reports. The campaign also presented the so-called precedent about Teresa Heinz Kerry's returns. That proved damaging to their position because it turned out not to be true. I can assure you the press has not stopped asking for a full disclosure of the McCain family finances.


San Francisco: Can you explain why it's up to the Democratic National Committee and a bunch of liberal bloggers to expose John McCain's campaign finance lawbreaking? As the "money and politics" reporter for The Washington Post, don't you consider the FEC's primary funding regulations your bailiwick? McCain's decision to withdraw from the primary funding system, and the FEC chairman's letter to him that he can't withdraw, remain unresolved. Scofflaw McCain is woefully uncovered in the traditional media, it seems.

Matthew Mosk: More satisfied readers!

Another interesting topic. I don't think it's at all clear that there has been lawbreaking here, but The Post and others have written plenty about the question of Sen. McCain's $4 million loan. For those who have not followed this, the question is whether his loan used public money as collateral, and if so, did that force him into the public financing system for the remainder of the primary season (which technically extends to the political conventions). This is a complex question that will ultimately rest with the courts, or with the Federal Election Commission, if it is ever reconstituted.


Fairfax County, Va.: Your thoughts on the canceled North Carolina debate? I believe Obama had originally agreed to a different date but Clinton didn't, then Clinton agreed to this Sunday and Obama didn't. But apparently it goes beyond the candidates. If I heard this right, ABC News reported last night that it was the North Carolina Democratic Party that canceled it because they believed further vitriol would not be in the overall party's best interest. If so, I think that was pretty smart. Do you see any more debates in the primary season, regardless of today's outcome? Hypothetically, for example, could a huge Clinton win today force the candidates back to their little matching podiums once again? North Carolina Dems abandon plans to host debate (AP, April 21)

Matthew Mosk: I have not followed this that closely, but I think it raises an interesting question. Do debates matter at this point? Would another one be helpful? Was the last one helpful for voters? What are your thoughts?


West Bend, N.C.: Has the Post responded to the blowback on the McCain anger story? Is Michael Leahy related to that nice old gentleman from Vermont? McCain: A Question of Temperament (Post, April 20)

Matthew Mosk: I have not heard about any blowback. I'm not aware that Mike has any relationship to Sen. Patrick Leahy, but I'll see if I can't find that out. It's an interesting article, attached here.


Cambridge, Mass.: Will there even be a point before the election when journalists no longer think it necessary to introduce McCain as "the presumptive Republican nominee" or Obama and Clinton as the "Senator from Illinois" and the "Senator from New York" respectively? This gets annoying after a while.

Matthew Mosk: Hello Cambridge. The reason for these conventions is that we have to write not only for the well-informed readers such as yourself, but for others who have not been following every twist and turn. Good news is, we have only to wait until the Republican convention before we no longer refer to Sen. McCain as the "presumptive nominee." As for the Democrats, not sure when we'll have the chance to refer to one of them as the nominee!


Chicago: Are there any indications of the kind of turnout that can be expected today in Pennsylvania?

Matthew Mosk: It all comes down to turnout, right? Turnout has been very high at Democratic primaries to this point, and given the intensity of the campaigning in Pennsylvania, I think it's safe to assume it will be high. But to whose advantage that goes, it's anyone's guess.


Austin, Texas: As you point out, lots of very angry people. Until the past couple of weeks, I had assumed that the Democrats would come together once they had a nominee. Now I'm not so sure. Lots of Obama-ites seem to really hate Hillary with a passion, and I'm sure it's reciprocated. I don't see fans of the losing Democratic candidate voting for McCain in large numbers, but I do see them not campaigning or donating, and in some cases not voting. What do you think? Will the Democrats be able to kiss and make up in time?

Matthew Mosk: There was an interesting take on this in today's New York Times (apologies to my editors for invoking the competition here). As Patrick Healy puts it: "All that stands in the way are a few pesky details - like the fact that Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton want to be done with each other, starting now. And that Mr. Clinton bitterly believes that the Obama camp has portrayed him as a brutish, race-baiting campaigner, according to two associates of Mr. Clinton. On top of that, Obama aides assert, Mrs. Clinton's baggage would damage Mr. Obama's image in a New York minute. And they also believe that the Clinton camp's negative tone seems a poor match for Mr. Hope."

_______________________ Dream Ticket Sounds Good to Many Democrats (Except the Candidates) (New York Times, April 22)


Washington: With so few primaries remaining, isn't the push to end the Democratic primary process "sooner rather than later" somewhat disingenuous? We've been through 40-plus contests over the past four months -- 40 additional days does not seem like all that long of a wait. I don't foresee a push from superdelegates to end the process this late in the game. Am I wrong?

Matthew Mosk: This is an interesting counterpoint to our last questioner. The tug here comes from two directions. On one side are Obama supporters who want the process to end while he has a clear lead. They are joined by folks who see a prolonged primary as a potential disaster for the party that will mire Democrats in their own family fight while Sen. McCain uses the time to solidify his support, define himself and his opponents, and reach out for increasingly disenchanted Democrats. On the other side are Clinton supporters, who believe time will expose Obama's weaknesses as a candidate, and give them time to persuade superdelegates that Clinton would be the stronger candidate to face McCain in November. Joining them are folks like our reader from Washington, who see no reason to end the process before every state has had the chance to vote.

I'm agnostic here, but I think this these two sides represent a real divide in the Democratic party.


More Debates?: Well, yeah, if you're a Republican: Clinton and Obama only can make each other look worse at this point -- they can't win anything, only further polarize their supporters. And the press loses too -- the only people I have seen give wee Georgie and Gibson positive reviews for their work on the most recent debate are other members of the press.

Matthew Mosk: Someone weighs in on the question of debates... any more thoughts?


Minnesota: Thanks for chatting. Regarding campaign financing, is the FEC even relevant this year? My understanding is that their board does not have enough sitting members to even form a quorum.

Matthew Mosk: Thank you Minnesota. The answer to your question is, they are not. (Apologies to my friends at the FEC). You are correct that the FEC has been hobbled by a dustup in the senate over one of President Bush's nominees. The result has been a standoff over four nominees to the six member commission. The commission cannot do much of anything without at least four members on the panel to cast votes. This has proven nettlesome already with questions such as the earlier one we discussed about Sen. McCain's request to withdraw from the public financing system for the primary. It could prove problematic again soon -- four votes are needed to approve public funding for the general election. But to the best of my knowledge, there has not been any movement to resolve the senate stalemate.


Anonymous: The Clinton campaign is carrying $10 million in debt. If she loses, her campaign will be bankrupt. Is it legal for bankrupt campaigns to file for bankruptcy and not pay their debts?

Matthew Mosk: Not sure about the bankruptcy question. A more likely scenario is that the campaign will simply continue to hold fundraisers to pay off debts. (Sen. John Glenn took years to pay off his debts from his 1984 presidential bid.) Another possibility is that she could transfer the debts to her senate account and go back to the same donors to help her pay it off. This is something of a loophole in the campaign finance law, but it does have a catch -- if she uses these donations to pay off her presidential debt, she can't return to those donors to help her seek reelection to the senate. Of course, all of this presupposes Clinton drops out, which we all know has not happened.


Rolla, Mo.: Please, no more "debates." I would have appreciated a series of two or three where they could actually ask each other questions, a la Lincoln-Douglas, but neither side ever would agree to it.

Matthew Mosk: More thoughts on debates.


Helena, Mont.: I think Howard Dean's argument with FEC regarding McCain and public financing (in addition to loan) is that McCain avoided paying more than $1 million in Ohio to get on ballot by showing he was in public financing.

Matthew Mosk: Hello Helena.

This is a contention of the DNC. But I have spoken with the secretary of state's office in Ohio, and they tell me his application to get on the ballot there was perfectly legal, regardless of how this dispute is resolved. The real dispute is whether McCain could legally withdraw from public financing. The reason that's so important is not ballot access. It's that a decision to force Sen. McCain to remain in the system would severely restrict his ability to spend money. In fact, he would have already surpassed the limits, and face penalties for doing so.


Canceling the debates -- from a Democrat's perspective: One point of view -- the sooner the contest is over, the more time there is for supporters of the losing Democrat to heal, the less time there are for slips of the candidates' tongues, and the more time there is for the media to write about the economy, Iraq, the Bush administration, etc.

Matthew Mosk: More on debates -- seems as though there aren't a lot of debate fans with us today.


Lancaster, Pa.: Turnout might be good, but we're having some problems with people being able to vote. I'm hearing stories from people who registered or changed party affiliation (long before the deadline) at the DMV, and despite receiving a voter registration card with new information, the updates were never received by the Pennsylvania Department of State. Provisional ballots are being offered, but if the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation didn't share the info, they're going to be worthless. Our implementation of the Motor Voter law is seriously flawed.

Matthew Mosk: Thank you Lancaster, for the live update from the center of the action. We'll have to look into the issue you've raised.


Atlanta: Although reporting results from exit polling officially is frowned upon by news organizations (as it should be ... it has too big an impact on turnout), is it safe to say that reporters/editors know the results, and it might affect their headlines/word choices throughput the day ("close race may decide nothing")? Or are media people as unhooked in as the rest of us?

Matthew Mosk: Usually we start hearing exit polling data in the late afternoon. But I can tell you this -- in several instances those results change hour by hour, sometimes dramatically. An example of this was with New Hampshire, when early exit polls did not show Clinton as the clear winner. For this reason, I think it's a great service that the media does not report on those "results."


Cranky in Washington:"Matthew Mosk: Boy, this is a cranky lot out here today!" Yes. Is it surprising? The Democrats are destroying themselves (each other) for no good reason. The Republicans are lapping it up. How much money has been spent on this election so far? How many good educations or health-insurance policies could that money have bought?

Matthew Mosk: Well that helps explain it.

As for how much has been spent on this campaign so far? By my count, well over $400 million.


New York: I'd support another debate solely on the subjects of presidential power, torture, detainee "trials," the day after we withdraw from Iraq, and Iraqi refugee policy -- moderated by PBS's Jim Lehrer, with no questions from the public. Thanks.

Matthew Mosk: Another approach...


Anonymous: Why aren't individual donors not affiliated with industry or lobby groups not seen as "public financing"?

Matthew Mosk: Well, in a literal sense, I suppose you're right. When I've referred to public financing, it has been to the system put in place after Watergate that enabled candidates to stop fundraising and devote themselves full time to campaigning. The money for their campaign came from a $3 check-off on your tax form, and was dispensed by the U.S. Treasury. In every campaign up till now, candidates have used this system in the general election at least. Until not too long ago, they also used the system in the primary -- which involves federal matching money rather than a direct payment.

Whether the candidates use the system in the general this year remains in doubt. Sen. McCain has indicated he plans to take the public funds. Sen. Hillary Clinton had signaled she would not. Sen. Obama has given conflicting signals on this, but has said he will make a decision on this if he secures the nomination.


New York: After reading Dan Balz's analysis today, I wonder whether an Obama "elitism" speech is forthcoming. Any idea what his campaign plans to do about this potential attack point? Thanks for the chat. 8 Questions About the Pennsylvania Primary (Post, April 22)

Matthew Mosk: Good question. Sen. Obama has obviously wrestled with how to approach that line of attack. I'm not sure it's clear yet how he will attempt to head it off.


Raleigh, N.C.: Good morning! Right now the Democrats have a huge advantage in fundraising for their House and Senate arms, and the Republican National Committee has a big edge over the Democratic National Committee. First question is, will the Republican National Committee's money edge be used for legislative races at all, or will it all be pumped into presidential races? Second question is, do the Republicans have enough Senate and House money to do what they want to do? Can they meet their plan, or are they going to have to cut back spending?

Matthew Mosk: Thank you Raleigh for your inquiry. I suspect the answer to your first question is that the RNC will be using its money to assist Sen. McCain's presidential bid. Sen. McCain has installed his own allies at the RNC to help him launch a joint fundraising effort with the RNC. Rudy Giuliani's former campaign manager is serving as a liaison between the campaign and the RNC. As for the senate and house races, they face a pretty big imbalance against the Democratic house and senate fundraising committees.


Matthew Mosk: Well thanks so much for a lively discussion. This should be a wild ride today, so hang on and stay tuned!


_______________________ Discussion: Philadelphia Inquirer Political Columnist on Today's Primary (, Live Now)


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