More and more it appears that, if nominated, Barack Obama will not accept public financing in a general election.
With all the "Will he? Won't he?" ponderings about whether Barack Obama will accept public financing, check out this comment from the senator last night at a Washington fundraiser:
"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 reserved for the wealthy and the powerful," Obama said, reports NBC/NJ's Aswini Anburajan.
John McCain's team has made an issue of Obama's suggestion that he'd consider public financing, in large measure, of course, because McCain hasn't shown nearly the fundraising prowess. It's a fair plea, however. A person can't change the influence of money on politics without opting out of the broken system. But Obama's comment signals with some finality, finally, his intention to bypass the system.
Frankly, Obama is not taking money from PACs and Washington lobbyists, and his camp can show that Obama's effort has largely been floated by small-dollar contributions. What would he have to prove by signing up for public financing?
John McCain and his surrogates are going to make a lot of hay about this -- they have to because there's no way that the McCain campaign would be able to compete dollar for dollar with the massive grassroots fundraising organization that is the Obama campaign -- but McCain has little credibility here. Remember, there remains an outstanding FEC complaint against McCain alleging that he is in violation on campaign finance law, specifically by blowing past the mandatory spending cap that comes along with acceptance of public financing. In this case, McCain opted in to the public finance program for the primaries, enjoyed benefits from it (partially conditioning a loan on American taxpayer dollars and gaining expensive ballot access from his certification in the program), only to unilaterally (and not clearly legally) pull out of the program without the acceptance of the Federal Election Commission.
And Jennifer Skalka over at The Hotline, who wrote the quoted post above, makes the fine point that Obama really is adhering to the spirit of campaign finance reform by refusing PAC and federal lobbyist donations. This pledge is made all the more important by the fact that the McCain campaign is chockfull of federal lobbyists, some of whom continued to lobby even from the so-called "Straight Talk Express."
Finally, going beyond the optics and ethics of a move towards grassroots rather than public financing for a general election, it's fairly clear that by opening up his campaign to contributions from the American people, Obama would greatly enhance his ability to win in November. Note that Obama is raising significantly more money that McCain in hard dollars -- roughly $130 million to less than $40 million in the first quarter of 2008, for instance. Note also that while much if not most of Obama's haul is coming from relatively small dollar donors, a relatively small portion of McCain's take (just $4 million of $15 million) comes from small dollar donors. And while the candidate who raises and spends the most money doesn't always win, recent elections have shown it generally to be the case that the bigger spender does tend to win.