When Privacy and Transparency Collide

I’m sure most of you saw that Barack Obama raised a record $55 million in the month of February, so I won’t regurgitate old news here. But what I find more interesting than the jaw dropping dollar amount, is how much of the fundraising activity is happening relatively under the radar. Yesterday his campaign made the rather boastful statement:

No campaign has ever raised this much in a single month in the history of presidential primaries. But more important than the total is how we did it — more than 90% of donations were $100 or less, and more than 385,000 new donors in February pushed us past our goal of more than 1,000,000 people owning a piece of this campaign.


My first reaction was “Wow! Go Baby Go”! Then my second thought was, “Wow! That’s roughly 900,000 donors we can’t track…”


The Federal Elections Commission (FEC) regulates that a campaign has to disclose all donors contributing more than $200 to Candidate. I downloaded the most recent FEC database and found only 84K contributors to the Obama Campaign at a time when he was claiming north of 500,000k. That means the vast majority of campaign money is originating virtually anonymously.

This raises questions around current Campaign Finance laws and if they will need to be revisited or reporting limits adjusted to adapt to current trends. My sense is that inevitably they will, but whether that’s good or bad for us is its own animal.

For example, last summer I contributed a whopping $25 to the Obama campaign. Should my Name, Address and Contribution Amount have to exist in a publicly accessible database as a matter of Campaign Finance Reform? From a privacy standpoint my reaction is “Not just no, but hell no”. But as a fan of Government Transparency, shouldn’t we be able to have visibility into the money flows of these campaigns? My answer is “yes”. So then, where in lies the balance?

The gray matter that exists at the intersection of Personal Privacy and Government Transparency when you participate in “public” activity will no doubt be the subject of much debate when the dust settles on this election. My gut says the issue will be raised from which ever side looses in November.

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