Obama Declines Public Financing

Posted by Katherine | June 21, 2008 – 9:30 am
Campaign finance Powerpoint slide
[freshelectrons / Flickr]

On Thursday, Barack Obama declined public financing for the general election. There was a slight lag before citizen talk revved up online — maybe everyone needed to brush up on campaign finance laws? — but it was in full swing yesterday. The common camps: 1) Obama lied; he’s not about “change” after all. 2) He’s being pragmatic and doing what’s necessary to avoid being swiftboated. 3) He’s raising money the way it should be raised: through tiny individual donations. Here are some variations on those themes.

Chris from Mansfield, Pennsylvania, is “tentatively supporting Senator Obama’s decision.” He takes up a free-speech argument:

Opponents of campaign finance reform frame this as a free speech issue. They think that contribution limits have the effect of limiting their influence on the campaign. Well, no s**t. For one thing, it is not like the lobbyists and political action committees don’t already have plenty of influence already. For another, shouldn’t the voice of the common person, the one who can only afford a $25 contribution, count as well? Does it sound more democratic to allow the wealthiest people to continue to have an inordinate amount of influence in politics? Not from the perspective of a poor person.

Wes, a communications consultant in DC, agrees that the grassroots is fired up about finding its fundraising voice in this election:

[I]f you think independent voters are troubled by Obama’s fundraising rather than simply impressed by it […], then I think you have badly misread the political climate. […] The idea that the “hopes and dreams” of supporters will coming crashing down because of this decision, when many Obama supporters and contributers like me are proud of our participation in his grassroots fundraising machine, is simply absurd. We Obama supporters are not going to turn our cheeks while independent groups circumvent campaign finance laws to smear Obama as a Muslim, Marxist, and all the rest.

Ohio State law professor Dan Tokaji blogs about election reform. Here he parses Obama’s original promise while “cheerfully conced[ing]” that he’s being “very lawyerly.” First he scrutinizes Obama’s answer to the Midwest Democracy Network’s questionnaire about public financing — which everyone points to as Obama’s promise to participate. Tokaji feels you could read Obama’s answer as a qualified promise. He also points out that McCain and Obama lawyers disagree on the extent of Obama’s effort to craft a campaign-finance agreement with McCain. His conclusion:

So did Obama fail to keep his word? It depends on what one thinks his words on the questionnaire meant, as well as on what words were exchanged between the candidates’ lawyers. One might criticize Obama for failing to “aggressively” pursue an agreement with McCain. One might also point to Obama’s statement during one of the debates with Senator Clinton, that he would “sit down with John McCain and make sure that we have a system that works for everybody.” It’s apparently undisputed that Obama and McCain didn’t personally sit down to discuss the issue, though their lawyers did. But if one believes [Obama’s lawyer’s] account, it seems clear that such efforts would have been futile, particularly in light of McCain’s later statement on 527 spending.

Gideon at the group blog N.C. Republican Roundtable understands Obama’s decision and even understands that people sometimes just change their minds. What he doesn’t get is what he sees as Obama’s manipulation of the truth:

What I do fault is that this man who has built a truly amazing campaign on the foundations of “telling the American people the truth” and being a different kind of “post-partisan” candidate … tossed those aside as quickly as it became expedient […]

Here’s the funny thing … the American people REALLY are yearning for authenticity and honesty in leadership. If Obama had simply chosen to be honest and say “I’ve changed my mind about accepting public money. Opting out gives me the best chance to beat John McCain, and thats what I’m trying to do.” My guess is that Obama would have won enormous respect for being different and courageous in his honesty.

Instead, he chose to obfuscate and make more partisan attacks … showing once again that despite the soaring rhetoric, Barrack Obama is just another politician doing whatever he can to win.

Catsittingstill in New Market, Tennessee, picked up on McCain’s own on-again-off-again public financing promises during the primaries. She thinks his outrage about Obama’s decision is hypocritical:

So, when John McCain obtained a bank loan for $1,000,000 for his campaign, using his promise that he would take public funding in the primaries as collateral, did he not sign his name? I didn’t think you could get bank loans without signing your name, but perhaps he had some sort of special…personal….relationship with this bank. That would be better, surely, than making a promise he didn’t intend to keep.

So here we have McCain trying to smear Obama for pretty much exactly what McCain did.

Yes, sometimes election is about character. Like, you know, hypocrisy.

Strangely, very few citizen blogs seem to be jumping on this morsel: FactCheck.org rejected Obama’s claim that the RNC and McCain’s campaign are “fueled by contributions from Washington lobbyists and special interest PACs.” Let us know if you find good posts about this. Or about 527 support of either campaign.


  1. One Response to “Obama Declines Public Financing”

  2. Now we have the best president money could buy. The Constitution is in serious trouble. As long as we say things Dem’s agree with, we’ll be fine. When we speak out against the Dem’s we’ll be silenced or worse, like Joe the Plumber. Watch your backs.

    By JRS on Nov 5, 2008

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