In a web video to supporters — “the people who built this movement from the bottom up” — Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, announced this morning that he will not enter into the public financing system, despite a previous pledge to do so.
“We’ve made the decision not to participate in the public financing system for the general election,” Obama says in the video, blaming it on the need to combat Republicans, saying “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.”
In November 2007, Obama answered “Yes” to Common Cause when asked “If you are nominated for President in 2008 and your major opponents agree to forgo private funding in the general election campaign, will you participate in the presidential public financing system?”
Obama wrote: “In February 2007, I proposed a novel way to preserve the strength of the public financing system in the 2008 election. My plan requires both major party candidates to agree on a fundraising truce, return excess money from donors, and stay within the public financing system for the general election. My proposal followed announcements by some presidential candidates that they would forgo public financing so they could raise unlimited funds in the general election. The Federal Election Commission ruled the proposal legal, and Senator John McCain (R-AZ) has already pledged to accept this fundraising pledge. If I am the Democratic nominee, I will aggressively pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee to preserve a publicly financed general election.”
Not so “aggressively,” according to the McCain campaign, which argues that Obama did not discuss this or try to negotiate at all with the McCain campaign, despite writing that he would “aggressively pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee to preserve a publicly financed general election.”
The Obama campaign disputes this. Obama campaign counsel Bob Bauer met with McCain campaign counsel Trevor Potter and, according to Obama spox Bill Burton, Potter “immediately made it clear there was no basis for further discussion,” that they weren’t interested in any sort of agreement. “McCain and the RNC had spent months raising and spending money for the general election, and their basic attitude was ‘You’ll catch up,’” Burton says, suggesting that the Republicans were also turning a blind eye to the activities of 527s.
In April Obama seemed to be preparing an argument to opt out, as we noted at the time.
“We have created a parallel public financing system where the American people decide if they want to support a campaign they can get on the Internet and finance it, and they will have as much access and influence over the course and direction of our campaign that has traditionally been reserved for the wealthy and the powerful,” Obama said at the time.
Today he said something similar, telling supporters, “Instead of forcing us to rely on millions from Washington lobbyists and special interest PACs, you’ve fueled this campaign with donations of $5, $10, $20, whatever you can afford. And because you did, we’ve built a grassroots movement of over 1.5 million Americans. …You’ve already changed the way campaigns are funded because you know that’s the only way we can truly change how Washington works.”
Obama said, “I’m asking you to try to do something that’s never been done before. Declare our independence from 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.”
Declaring independence from a “broken system” by breaking a promise. Obama hopes you’ll care more about the former than the latter.
UPDATE: McCain campaign communications director Jill Hazelbaker emails: “Today, Barack Obama has revealed himself to be just another typical politician who will do and say whatever is most expedient for Barack Obama. The true test of a candidate for President is whether he will stand on principle and keep his word to the American people. Barack Obama has failed that test today, and his reversal of his promise to participate in the public finance system undermines his call for a new type of politics. Barack Obama is now the first presidential candidate since Watergate to run a campaign entirely on private funds. This decision will have far-reaching and extraordinary consequences that will weaken and undermine the public financing system.”