Who is breaking their word on public financing?

If you listen to all the talking heads, I mean pundits, and representatives for the McCain campaign, Obama’s decision this week to not seek public financing is like killing a baby. He broke his word to the public, he is flip floping, he is full of blind ambition, and doesn’t care about keeping his word.

The supposedly liberal counterpart, Mark Shields, to David Brook on the Newshour said this,

MARK SHIELDS, syndicated columnist: Judy, Barack Obama made history this week. He became the first presidential nominee since Richard Nixon in 1972 to state that his campaign will be funded totally by private donations with no limits on spending.

Nice smear, equating the forgoing of public financing in the general campaign (not the primary portion) with tricky Dick. But when I look at the Federal Election Commission web site on this topic, this is what I see,

The Federal Election Commission administered the first public funding program in 1976. Eligible Presidential candidates used federal funds in their primary and general election campaigns, and the major parties used public funds to pay for their nominating conventions.

So to talk about the history of the system and go back to Nixon as the last example of a candidate not taking public financing, when the FEC says that the program was first administered post Nixon is an unfair comparison.

Now according to the Wall Street Journal, not exactly your liberal press, this is what they report on this topic,

Both candidates support public financing, and early in the campaign season Obama was a vocal supporter of the system. His campaign, however, has raised unprecedented funds—some $265 million and growing–from a grassroots network of small individual donors.

The Obama campaign argument, in part, is that their campaign is its own version of public financing, since it is built on individual donors and does not accept money from lobbyists or political action committees.

Earlier Obama had pledged that he would sit down with McCain to work out an equitable system if the two candidates were to accept public funds. The Associated Press reported that Obama’s lawyer Robert Bauer said he had met with McCain’s lawyers to discuss terms, but the talks were fruitless.

The decision to opt out of the system will likely set up Obama to have a significant cash advantage over McCain in the general election if the Arizona senator opts in to the system. Even if McCain changes his mind and also opts out, he is unlikely to be able to match Obama’s fund-raising successes.

So Obama is backing out because he is not accepting lobbyist or PAC money, but rather small donations, the net roots. His folks talked with McCain’s folks and they couldn’t iron out an agreement, which it sounds like a condition of his accepting public financing. Also the WSJ suggests McCain might change his mind, which is kind of ironic because he has already done that this election cycle.

As this Washington Post blog covered this March, McCain has already changed his mind on public financing in the primary part of the campaign,

McCain Blows by Public Spending Cap

By Matthew Mosk
Sen. John McCain has officially broken the limits imposed by the presidential public financing system, reports filed last night show.

McCain has now spent $58.4 million on his primary effort. Those who have committed to public financing can spend no more than $54 million on their primary bid.

So has McCain broken the law? The answer is far from simple.

It depends on whether he has, in fact, withdrawn from the public matching program. McCain was certified to enter the matching program last year when he was starved for cash. But once he started to win primaries, he decided to step back from it. On Feb. 6, after his Super Tuesday victories, he wrote to the FEC to announce he would withdraw from the program.

McCain’s lawyers said that gave him freedom to spend as much as he wanted — once he announced his intent to withdraw from the system, they say, he was released from the spending caps.

But Federal Election Commission Chairman David Mason wrote McCain’s campaign last month to alert him that the commission had not yet granted his Feb. 6 request to withdraw, and that the commission would first need to vote on the matter. A snag: The FEC has four vacancies and therefore lacks a quorum to consider the matter.

There’s little agreement on what the FEC would have done, had they been able to meet. In part, that’s because McCain borrowed $4 million from a commercial bank, and promised to pay the money back through his fundraising efforts. If the campaign went badly, he told the bank, he would use future matching funds to help repay the loan. The rules say that candidates who use matching funds as collateral have to remain within the confines of the system. The Democratic National Committee filed a complaint to the FEC about McCain’s actions, but without that quorum, evaluation of the complaint has been stalled.

Meanwhile, McCain’s fundraising has roared ahead, now that he is the presumptive Republican nominee. His campaign announced yesterday that it repaid the $4 million loan last week, ahead of schedule.

So he used public financing as collateral for a loan to keep the campaign going, but the rules say you cannot later opt out, which is what he says he did by a letter, maybe it was another get out of trouble letter that Republicans have when they do illegal things, like ask telecomms to spy on Americans without a warrant. When you really think about this, it is like he is doing the Hokey-Pokey on public financing, “you put your campaign in, your take your campaign out, then your put campaign in again…..”

So when we look at issues of Obama and McCain’s word, it is hard to see where McCain has any ground to stand on, out of need to to stay in the race, he opt-ed into public finance to guarantee a loan, but when he was doing better, spent past his limits, arguing that his letter to the FEC was enough to withdraw. I don’t know about you, but that is a flip-flop, that is political ambition, doing whatever it takes at the time to become the presidential nominee. It definitely isn’t straight talk.

Of course you don’t hear about this hypocrisy from the talking heads, pundits, because it wouldn’t give them something to be outraged by, they might actually have to discuss the issue. And well, the folks paying them make money on political advertisements.

-Josh

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1 Comment

  1. June 22, 2008 at 4:45 pm

    Pretty much. The media aim for whatever gives the biggest shock, and since Obamaman’s all the rage, they’ll shoot him down while McCain comes out smelling like a rose.


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