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Money still talks in White House race

  • Story Highlights
  • Analysts: Candidates spent more than half-a-billion dollars during White Race so far
  • Post-Watergate, US set out to limit the money in politics and the influence it buys
  • McCain wants to clean up fundraising, Obama to run as enemy of special interests
  • Both have wavered on accepting $85M of public funds and forgoing private donations
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By Jonathan Mann
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(CNN) -- "Follow the money" was a classic line from a classic movie about US politics. The film was "All The President's Men" -- the story of Watergate.

We don't know if anyone ever really uttered that phrase in the course of the break-in and cover-up that eventually brought down Richard Nixon. It was apparently a screenwriter's dramatic flourish. But it's still very good advice.

So follow the money in the US presidential election. It's going to two men who boast of their reputations as reformers. But it may also undermine a real post-Watergate effort to clean up corruption.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Barack Obama spent $218 million dollars on the primaries. Hillary Clinton spent $215 million dollars and John McCain $72 million.

That's more than half a billion so far and the real presidential campaign is just starting.

Right after Watergate, the US set out to limit the money in politics and the influence it buys.

Washington agreed to hand over about $85 million in campaign money to the presidential nominees of the Democratic and Republican parties, in return for their agreement to forgo other money elsewhere.

The law is are full of loopholes and widely considered in need of a new overhaul. But no one has ever turned down the $85 million.

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This year? McCain has worked to clean up campaign fundraising and Obama has been running as an enemy of special interests and a candidate of 'change.' Both seem like the kind of men who would sign up fast.

But Obama has raised more money than any primary candidate in US history and owes his victory over Clinton, in part, to massively outspending spending her on television ads.

Experts believe that if he refuses the $85 million in public financing, he could raise hundreds of millions on his own. Obama is wavering.

Even McCain, who's had trouble raising really big money, doesn't want to agree to a financial handicap that could potentially cost him the election. If Obama rejects the deal, he says he could too.

So two men perceived as reformers may end-up undermining one of the most important reforms in US politics. Winning elections is about more than being high-minded. It's about being well-funded.

And if you want to know what a candidate will do to win, follow the money.

All About Hillary ClintonDemocratic PartyBarack ObamaJohn McCainRepublican Party

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