Can you give me an example of one that was your idea?
We’re now running two-minute ads focused on the economy. The way it worked was, I suggested, “We need to get above the back and forth of the daily negative ads that both campaigns have been running.” I felt that explaining to the American people in a direct way what we are gonna do about the economy, or what we would do about taxes, could be useful to break through the clutter, if it was done differently. Then David Plouffe, our campaign manager, said, “Why don’t we do a two-minute ad? Let’s buy the time and see how it does.” And I think those ads have actually been very successful during a critical time when people are anxious and nervous about the state of the economy. There’s some sense that this guy’s speaking directly to me, and he’s explaining to me in clear language what exactly he intends to do.
In the last two elections, the Republicans worked to suppress the vote, especially in Democratic precincts. Reporting by Bobby Kennedy in “Rolling Stone” has raised questions about whether the Re publicans stole the 2004 election in Ohio. Are you worried about those kinds of tactics this time? And what are you doing in advance to keep that from happening?
Without leveling any accusations about past misdeeds, I can tell you that we’re paying a lot of attention to how the election a month from now is going to take place. We’ve got an extraordinary team of lawyers in every battleground state —– hundreds of them – fanning out across these states. A lot of the work is actually being done now: We have organized such a surge in voter registration that there were clerks having difficulty processing the registration, and there was some question as to legal requirements for them to hire more clerks. So there’s already been a lot of work done, and I feel pretty confident that if there are any shenanigans out there that we’ll be on top of them.
But John Kerry said the same thing in 2004. Lawyers are mainly useful after the fact, when it’s too late. Is there anything you can do before the fact to keep the vote from being tampered with?
Well, in Ohio the thing we did was make sure there was a Democratic secretary of state.
Replacing Kenneth Blackwell, the Republican who was in charge in 2004.
You’ve talked about the need for Washington to “stop acting like an industry advocate and start acting like a public advocate.” Yet your campaign donors include executives of some of the most troubled financial companies, like Lehman Brothers. You’ve also accepted more money from Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae than any senator except Chris Dodd, who chairs the Senate Banking Committee…
Let me just interrupt there. We’ve raised so much more money than anybody that these kinds of statistics can be misleading. I don’t take money from lobbyists. None of the lobbyists for these industries has organized any fundraisers specifically for me. It’s not as if we had a Lehman Brothers fundraiser or what have you.
You’re not out on their yacht, in other words.
Yeah. What happens is that people have sent us a lot of money. It was interesting with the oil companies, for example. When I talked about how John McCain met with oil company executives and reversed himself on offshore drilling, and that same week raised a whole bunch of money from oil executives, they came back and said, “Well, you’ve raised all this money from oil companies, too.” What they’re doing there is they’re counting the $25 check from some secretary who works in a back office somewhere. Cumulatively, it ends up looking like a lot of money. But there is a very big difference between us getting money from employees of all sorts of industries and us getting bundled big checks from industry lobbyists, which we never do.
For me, the problem isn’t that there’s a quid pro quo, or even access that much. It was interesting— – during my U.S. Senate career, I think I’ve actually met with industry lobbyists…I can remember maybe two times. Most of the time you’ve got this staff buffer —– they’re meeting with the lobbyists, and then they bring me issues. I don’t have relationships with the lobbyists, I don’t know them. I’m not really a Washington guy. I haven’t done the cocktail circuit – that’s not how I’ve organized my fundraising.
Now, does that make me completely pure? No. Because the fact of the matter is, there is a danger that if you’re spending a lot of time on fundraising, you’re spending time with the one percent of the population that can afford to write you a check. And you may end up losing touch with what ordinary folks are going through. That’s why the model that we’ve built where huge amounts of money are raised in small increments has done two things. One is, it means that they have ownership over the campaign. The other is that it frees me up from having to do a lot of big-dollar fund-raisers. I’ve maybe done [pauses]…10 in the last two or three months? Don’t hold me perfectly to that, but I actually don’t spend much time on fundraising, and I don’t really know, most of the time, who is writing checks.