Why Did Edwards Do This? Pros and Cons

Advisers to Sen. John Edwards argued that the decision to opt in to the public finance system will boost the campaign's coffers before the primaries, but conceded that the campaign's fundraising to date had not met their expectations.

"Before we did this," one adviser said, "there were only two campaigns [Obama's and Clinton's] who thought they'd be around before the primaries with about $20M or $30M on hand. Now, we're going to be right there with them. We're going to have between $18M and $21M on hand now. That'll give us a huge boost."

"The bigger implication here is that there are now three campaigns with major wherewithall going into the primaries," the aide said.

But entering federal financing system has two major drawbacks. There's an overall spending limit for the primaries, so a campaign that blows through its money would be bankrupt until after its convention, allowing the opposing party's candidate to air television ads without rebuttal. (As Edwards adviser-then-Dean-manager Joe Trippi said in 2003: "This campaign believes that any Democratic campaign that opted into the matching-funds system has given up on the general election.”).

And the candidates are severely constrained in what they can spend in the states. There are fairly strict caps in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

An Edwards aide said that the campaign had run the numbers and concluded that they have yet to exceed spending limits. The arcane and fairly complicated allocation laws will help: if Edwards's campaign runs a television ad in Davenport, since 70% of the audience for that ad is in next-door Illinois, 70% of the cost of the ad will count towards Illinois's limit, and not Iowa's. And even for the Iowa portion, the campaign is require to allocate 50% to the limit.

Another loophole: some organizing expenses do not count towards the cap, and the Edwards campaign will claim that most of their Iowa staff expenses to date have been related to field organizing and fundraising.

"We will 100% abide by the rules and the spending limits that come with this," Trippi said today.

Trippi offered a preview of how Edwards will sell the decision in Iowa and other states.

"Iowa gets to choose between a Democrat who is taking the money of health care lobbyists and insurance lobbyists and corporate lobbyists and PACs who will almost certainly blow through the spending limits that they would have to abide by under public financing against a Democrat who has never taken a dime of PAC money and has never taken a dime of lobbyists money, and now, will stay within the public financing system in Iowa, which will give the people of Iowa the change to decide who will go to Washington and represent them on all these issues?"