We always remember our firsts, first day of college, first love, first day in a real job…etc. It looks as if the Junior Senator from Illinios the one that is running on a platform of changing the political landscape is about to celebrate a first–breaking his first presidential campaign promise. The Senator has said that if the Republican Candidate went the route of federal campaign financing he would also…but that was until he raised a ton of cash, because now he is not so sure:
Last year, Obama indicated he would accept public funds if his Republican opponent did as well. But as John McCain takes steps to accept the $84 million available in federal money for the general election, Obama has been hedging.
This week, he appeared to be making a case that his broad base of small dollar donors is as egalitarian as the government’s public subsidy.
“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,” he told donors at a Washington fundraiser Tuesday night. “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.”
Campaign communications director Robert Gibbs said Wednesday that Obama’s remarks were “not a policy statement.” He said Obama merely was trying to underscore the grassroots nature of his fundraising.
But Obama’s point is an echo of an argument made privately by a number of Democratic strategists who believe that if he were to raise his own money in the general election, his base of nearly 1.3 million donors could easily deliver in excess of the amount available from the federal treasury.
While presidential candidates have rejected public financing in primaries, no major party candidate has bypassed the system in the general election since the program was created in the wake of the Watergate scandal in the 1970s.
At the same time, the invitation to Obama’s fundraiser Tuesday specifically asked donors to contribute money only to the primary election effort. Obama has raised more than $8 million for the general election, out of a total $234 million raised though the end of March.
“Our focus has always been on primary money,” Gibbs said.
McCain, meanwhile, has returned money he raised for the general and is taking steps to build up the Republican Party’s fundraising to assist him in the campaign.
Obama rival Hillary Rodham Clinton has raised nearly $22 million for the general election, out of a total of about $176 million. But Clinton has never suggested she would rely on public financing in the fall.
In response to a questionnaire in November from the Midwest Democracy Network, which is made up of nonpartisan government oversight groups, Obama said: “Senator John McCain 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.”
“Barack Obama publicly promised the American people that he would accept public financing if he is the nominee of his Party. Launching his campaign by going back on a promise to voters would be dishonest, and exposes his politics of hope as empty rhetoric out of a typical politician,” McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds.
Gibbs dismissed the criticism, noting that McCain is at an impasse with the Federal Election Commission regarding questions over a $4 million loan McCain obtained last year to help jump-start his campaign. The loan has been paid back and McCain and his lawyers have said they abided by campaign finance laws.
“We’re not going to be lectured about public financing and campaign finance by somebody who the FEC believes serious questions have been raised about the conduct with which they have financed their campaign, questions that remain unanswered today,” Gibbs said.