WASHINGTON — Senator Barack Obama announced on Thursday that he would not participate in the public financing system for presidential campaigns. He argued that the system had collapsed, and would put him at a disadvantage running against Senator John McCain, his likely Republican opponent.
With his decision, Mr. Obama became the first candidate of a major party to decline public financing — and the spending limits that go with it — since the system was created in 1976, after the Watergate scandals.
Mr. Obama made his announcement in a video message sent to supporters and posted on the Internet. While it was not a surprise — his aides have been hinting that he would take this step for two months — it represented a turnabout from his strong earlier suggestion that he would join the system. Mr. McCain has been a champion of public financing of campaign throughout his career.
“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,” he said. “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.”
Here’s the video of Obama’s announcement:
The McCain campaign is positively apoplectic:
“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.”
David Weigel at Reason, though, points out that McCain really doesn’t have a winning issue here:
This is a “king of the beach” moment for Obama, who has been cajoled, hectored, and begged by John McCain not to opt out, and to accept the fundraising cap that comes with federal cash. But McCain gave Obama the fig leaf for this six years ago when McCain-Feingold sent big money surging into 527 groups. Obama weasled out of his stated desire to accept public financing by saying that he’d only take it if Republican 527s were muzzled—an impossible demand. I expect McCain to attack Obama over this, but it’s a sucker’s issue. What more proof do voters need that McCain’s signature accomplishment of the last decade was a bust.
I oppose public financing of campaigns for the simple reason that I do not believe that taxpayer dollars should be used to support political candidates and movements that they do not support. In fact, I think a good argument can be made that forcing taxpayers to finance campaigns they disagree with is itself a violation of the First Amendment.
Moreover, the argument that the public financing system is supposedly funded by means of a check box on individual income tax returns — a box I have marked “No” every that I’ve filed an income tax return by the way — is simply wrong. Just like there is no such thing as a Social Security Trust Fund, there is no such thing as a campaign finance “fund” made up solely of money taken from the taxes of people who checked “yes” on their income tax returns, it all comes from the same general funds, which means that it’s unavoidable that taxes paid by someone such as myself would end up in the hands of Hillary Clinton or even Lyndon LaRouche.
The calculus is simple: Obama feels he can raise more money outside the system than he can get inside of it.
Yea, so ?
I’d rather see Obama’s campaign, and McCain’s and Bob Barr’s for that matter, financed by money they received from people that actually support them than by money taken from taxpayers.
In an argument between a guy arguing in favor of taking money from taxpayers to finance something they don’t agree with and a guy in favor of running a campaign that only takes money from people that want to donate to it, it is both sad an ironic that conservatives seem eager to side with the pro-government guy.
Now, I’m not naive enough to think that Barack Obama is fundamentally opposed to public financing of political campaigns; he’s a Democrat after all. However, his decision to opt out of the system will, I think, prove to be dramatic and ground-breaking enough that, hopefully, in 4 or 8 years, the very idea of using taxpayer dollars to financing political campaigns will be recognized for the absurdity and injustice that it truly is.\
Update: In the comments, Ed Morrisey asks a question worth being addressed here in the body of the post:
So he’s blaming the decision on a broken system (which he lauded as recently as April and which he has not lifted a finger to fix), and he’s blaming John McCain. He’s doing everything he can to divert attention away from the real reason he’s abandoning a system that even in his rejection he supposedly supports.
I mean, I’d agree with you if he had a Damascus moment on public financing, but that’s the opposite of what he’s doing today. That’s at least somewhat remarkable, wouldn’t you say?
Actually, I would say that it’s politically smart on his part. As I noted earlier this year, it’s John McCain who is the candidate who has an interest in keeping Obama in the public financing system; because he has absolutely no shot of matching the Obama campaign’s fundraising abilities. Since the object of a political campaign is to win, it doesn’t surprise me all that much that the Obama campaign is doing something that will clearly be to it’s advantage.
Moreover, for me at least, the question to ask isn’t why is Obama opting out of the system, but why McCain isn’t following suit ? If he truly was a conservative who believed in limited government, he’d find the idea of taking taxpayer dollars to finance his campaign abhorrent. Since I know McCain doesn’t really believe in limited government, what I’d find remarkable would be for him to take a principled stand against something that’s clearly wrong.
Yes, I know Obama is doing because it suits his interests. For me, it doesn’t matter. If it puts another nail in the coffin of a system that should have never been allowed to exist in the first place, then it was the right decision to make as far as I’m concerned.