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]

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Week in Review: The News Stories that Mattered for 2/24-3/1

Welcome back for the dish on the biggest stories of the past week. This coming week should be an important one too–stay tuned for details on tomorrow’s Super Tuesday Revisited.

Dmitri Medvedev Becomes Russian President:

Putin’s Presidency Ends, Not His Rule

Medvedev to Take Russian Presidency

The Fight for Texas and Ohio:

Clinton, Obama vie for votes in Ohio

Poll: It’s all tied up for Dems in Texas

Democratic Race Intensifies as Big Day Looms

Cunningham Plays Dirty:

McCain apology angers conservative host

McCain Repudiates ‘Hussein Obama’ Remarks

Bush Pushes for Intelligence Bill:

Bush ups pressure on House to pass intelligence bill

Bush admin: U.S. has ‘lost intelligence’

Bush vs. Congress: Eavesdropping Showdown

Public Financing Debacle:

McCain Presses Obama on Pledge About Public Funds

Obama and Public Financing

FEC chair: McCain can’t drop out of public financing system

DNC to File FEC Complaint Against McCain

Why public financing in November won’t matter as much as you think

Earlier we talked about how Sen. John McCain’s calling out of Sen. Obama on the latter’s promise to commit to public financing in the general election if he were the nominee and came to the conclusion that it was a win-win for McCain and a lose-lose for Obama. While I agree, if Obama turns down the challenge and goes back on his word, it would be horrible for his image, and if he accepts public financing, it will erase his distinct advantage in fundraising. But hold up, here’s why it may not matter as much as you think. Under public financing, private donations to campaigns would be off-limits, however, contributions to the Democratic and Republican parties, and more importantly, 527’s will still be fair game. It’s safe to say that even with Obama’s huge advantage in direct campaign contributions in a non-public financed election, conservatives would level the playing field by pumping millions into 527’s which can say pretty much whatever they want (except for the ‘magic words’ of “vote for,” “vote against,” etc.). If Obama does become the nominee and does in fact commit to public financing, instead of sending our $15 directly to the campaign, we will be ordered to send them to the DNC or 527s set up to support Obama and tear down McCain, essentially putting us right back where we started. However, you could make the case that people won’t donate as enthusiastically to the DNC and 527s, although I don’t think too many people will fret over the “donate now” button redirecting you to the Democratic party’s site instead of staying on barackobama.com. Also, you can bet the DNC will pump every cent they can into the presidential election, because if they can’t win this time they might as well close up shop. While obviously the best case scenario for Sen. Obama would be for John McCain to back off the challenge and for the public financing debate to go away, but I don’t think it would have the weight to swing the election if in fact they are locked into public financing for the general election.