Commentary: Obama's Flip-Flop on Public Financing

The following is a commentary by ABC News' Sam Donaldson. Click here to view a video version of Sam's latest essay

Senator Obama has announced he will opt out of public financing for the general election. He says he will "forgo" more than $80 million in public funds and go it alone.

How was that decision made?

This reporter obtained a transcript of the meeting during which the Obama team made the decision.

Someone said, "We want to do this but we've got a problem — last September you wrote that you would aggressively pursue an agreement with your Republican opponent for public financing. And then last February, when Tim Russert asked you why you wouldn't keep your word on that, you said you would sit down with John McCain and make sure that we have a system that is fair for both sides."

"Yes," says someone else, "but you didn't really promise to do it, just to 'pursue an agreement,' and let's face it, if we're free to raise a ton of money above the public financing limit we can bury McCain with more television ads than any candidate has ever been able to run in the history of presidential politics."

"Okay," says someone else. "But we've got to word the announcement in a way that makes it sound like we are actually taking the high ground in this matter. That we are the ones fighting against the big money in politics."

Well of course, I have no such transcript, I don't know what they said to each other, but I do know what Sen. Obama said on his Web site about this.

He said it was not an easy decision because he supports a robust system of public financing of elections … but the system as it exists today is broken and his opponents are masters of gaming the broken system.

Therefore, said Sen. Obama, he wants to declare his independence from such a broken system and run the type of campaign that reflects the grassroots values that have already changed our politics and brought us this far.

All I can say is, here's to the high ground and here's to change — ain't it great?

Sam Donaldson, a 41-year ABC News veteran, served two appointments as chief White House correspondent for ABC News, from January 1998 to August 1999 and from 1977-1989, covering Presidents Carter, Reagan and Clinton. Donaldson also co-anchored, with Diane Sawyer, "PrimeTime Live," from August 1989 until it merged with "20/20" in 1999. He co-anchored the ABC News Sunday morning broadcast, "This Week With Sam Donaldson & Cokie Roberts," from December 1996 to September 2002. Currently, Sam Donaldson appears on ABC News Now, the ABC News digital network, in a daily show, "Politics Live."

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