Congress Begins Overhauling Regulatory System

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are ready to start writing new rules for the financial industry. The process is expected to take many months, and it began with a hearing Tuesday by the House Financial Services Committee.

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As Election Day approaches, we're getting details on how much money the presidential candidates have for the home stretch. At the end of last month, Republican John McCain had $47 million. Democrat Barack Obama had a staggering a $134 million, which makes one wonder if Obama actually can spend all that cash before the election. NPR's Peter Overby has more.

PETER OVERBY: John McCain is taking public financing for the fall campaign just like every other major party nominee in the past 30 years. Every nominee, that is, except Barack Obama. In early September, McCain got $84 million from the government. He spent about half of it. The $47 million figure is his cash on hand as of September 30. But Obama rounded up 153 million bucks last month, more than five million a day, all of it ready to go out the door to TV stations, car rental agencies, or whatever. There hasn't been a presidential campaign like this in modern times. Obama's September 30 bank balance was $134 million.

Professor KEN GOLDSTEIN (Political Science, University of Wisconsin; Director, Wisconsin Advertising Project: Just absolutely uncharted waters.

OVERBY: That's Ken Goldstein. He runs the Wisconsin Advertising Project at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. The project tracks TV spending by the candidates. Goldstein says they're seeing nothing but contraction by McCain, and for Obama, nothing but expansion, and not just for television.

Professor GOLDSTEIN: They can do TV, yep, and they can do radio, yep, and they can do mail, yep, and they can do field, yep, and they can have hundreds of field offices across the entire country. And they can do that in states that expand the political playing field.

OVERBY: It's not quite as lopsided as it looks. McCain and Obama both have raised money outside the regular contribution limits for what are known as joint fundraising committees. Donors give in amounts up to $70,000. The watchdog group Public Citizen counts 1,330 of these mega-donors for Obama and a few more of them, 1,436, for McCain. Their money flows mostly to party committees that can help the presidential campaigns.

The campaign finance institute added these joint fundraising efforts into the equation, and it estimates that Obama will still have a three to two financial advantage. But the Obama campaign isn't letting up on the accelerator. Here's campaign manager David Plouffe in the same video that he used to announce the $153 million haul.

(Soundbite of Obama campaign video)

Mr. DAVID PLOUFFE (Campaign Manager, Obama Campaign): We're just going to ask you to dig as deep as you can. We've come too far. The finish line is too close for us to fall short.

OVERBY: But the days are dwindling down. Is it possible to spend, say, $150 million in the next two weeks? Democratic consultant Tad Devine.

Mr. TAD DEVINE (Democratic Political Consultant): Yes. They'll be able to spend that money wisely because they were able to build a foundation in the first place.

OVERBY: Devine says the long primary campaign actually helped Obama. It enabled him to develop a more complete grassroots operation. Now, Devine says, more money can be spent to activate more elements of that network. And TV time, a diminishing commodity at this point in a campaign, won't shrink as much as you might think. Devine says stations will push other advertisers back a couple of weeks so they can sell more political ads.

Mr. DEVINE: The advertisers know that on November 5 there's a different market than there is today.

OVERBY: The financial picture will become still clearer tomorrow. That's when Obama and McCain file reports covering the first half of October. These will be the last disclosures before Election Day. Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.

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