Saturday, February 16, 2008

General Election Financing

Senator McCain called Senator Obama out yesterday for refusing to stand by a pledge to accept public financing for the general election.  A year ago, when asked in a questionnaire by the Midwest Democracy Network if he would accept public financing for the general election, Obama wrote "Yes. If I am the Democratic nominee, I will aggressively pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee to preserve a publicly financed general election."  Now, Senator McCain is saying that he will indeed accept public financing, and he expects Senator Obama to do the same.  Obama's campaign has vascillated, his press secretary Mark Burton said “We will address that issue in the general election, when we’re the nominee."

The reasons for Senator Obama's change in stance are clear; his fundraising operation is now pulling in over a million dollars a day and will far outstrip anything Senator McCain could achieve.  By refusing to use public funds, Obama could greatly outspend McCain, who would be limited to $85 million if he accepts the funds.  Senator Obama's opponent for the Democratic nomination, Senator Clinton, has also not pledged to use public funds.  If he were to make such a pledge before she did, she could use that as a reason for why she would make a better general election candidate. Her campaign, despite its previous financial difficulties, has seen a recent uptick in fundraising, and could conceivably outspend McCain by refusing public financing.

While I can understand the issues Obama is grappling with, I believe he needs to step forward and confirm his pledge with McCain.  Obama's disavowal of PAC money and focus on small donations from individuals are a big step in fighting the special interests in Washington, but the public funds are the only ones that are 100% special interest proof.  Senator Obama would not necessarily be giving up all of his fundraising advantage by accepting the public funds.  The $85 million limit only applies to spending after the convention, which for the Democrats ends on August 28th.  With the last primary taking place on June 7th in Puerto Rico, Obama, if he is the presumptive nominee by that point, would have two and a half months to use his privately raised funds to launch a defining campaign against Senator McCain.  Senator Obama can have the best of both worlds, maintaining the high ground on campaign finance while heavily outspending his opponent at the same time.

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