Obama Rejects Public Financing, “Declares Independence”

Screenshot from Obama\'s site.

On Barack Obama’s website, his campaign asks potential contributors to

“declare their independence”–and to give him their money.

Barack Obama just did what we all thought he would, but in a much more clever way.

The Illinois senator’s campaign emailed a video to supporters today announcing his decision to turn down$84.1 million in taxpayer-provided financing for the general election this November. The move was expected since his incredible fundraising machine generated $95 million in February and March alone (see our post from February 27).  However, this is the first time since the system was created that a major candidate has ever rejected the public funds, and it is especially interesting in an election where both candidates claim to be champions of ethics and campaign finance reform. McCain is now expected to reject financing himself, in order to be able to keep up with Obama.

What was NOT expected today was the way he and his campaign broke the news: as a “declaration of independence” from a “broken system.” He stressed the loopholes afforded to candidates by unrestricted donations to political parties as well as advocacy groups, such as the famed Swiftboat Veterans for Truth of 2004, one of many so-called “527s”  (named for the section of campaing finance legislation that provides for their existence).

The public financing of presidential elections as it exists today is broken, and we face opponents who’ve become masters at gaming this broken system.  John McCain’s campaign and the Republican National Committee are fueled by contributions from Washington lobbyists and special interest PACs. And we’ve already seen that he’s not going to stop the smears and attacks from his allies running so-called 527 groups, who will spend millions and millions of dollars in unlimited donations.

McCain has criticized Obama for going back on his word from when the campaign announced that he would “aggressively pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee” to mutually accept public financing. However, Obama has said in the past that if he did reject public funding, his cache of small donations (90% are of $100 or less) is still in the spirit of keeping the influence of the wealthy from overwhelming democracy.

We will see if the media and the public buy into Obama’s call for much-needed reform, or if they see the move as simply hypocritical.  Either way, we can be sure that our next president will make an effort to take the money out politics–at least in his second term.

Obama’s video message [BarackObama.com]

Obama Forgoes Public Funds in First for Major Candidate [New York Times]