Posted by: Mike | June 24, 2008

Obama and Public Financing

Recently, presidential candidate Barack Obama opted out of his promise to adopt public financing for the fall campaign. Obama explained on his website that he will need the extra money to fend off attacks from conservative groups. What he didn’t say was that by opting out of public financing, he will be able to outraise McCain by about 100 million dollars. So, was Obama just doing what a typical politician would do- sacrificing his principles for the sake of expediency and convenience? Probably. But he would have to be a fool not to.

Consider the following: Republicans have consistently been better at fundraising than Democrats for years. For this reason, many Republicans have been hesitant about campaign finance reform, while Democrats have embraced it. Now the tables are turned, and its the Republicans who are crying foul. I think it’s about time, however, and so do many other Democrats. As it stands, the RNC has 50 million more dollars in the bank than does the DNC, which is struggling to fund the upcoming convention. So called “572 groups” that advocate for conservatives are poised to outspend comparable groups on the liberal front. If Obama had not opted out of public financing, he would have put himself in the same position many of his predecessors experienced – that of being outraised and outspent.

Furthermore, if Obama had taken the “principled” position – had he kept his word and embraced public financing- he would have vindicated all of the Clinton backers (such as myself) who argued that Obama was too soft to win the presidency. But Obama has proven that he is not soft. Not only has he rejected public financing, he has also demonstrated the ability to respond rapidly and thoroughly to vicious rumors and attacks launched by Republicans. When McCain suggested that Hamas had endorsed Obama, the Obama campaign was able to quickly rebut him. When McCain’s top advisor asserted that another terrorist attack would give his campaign a boost, Obama fired back with gusto. Obama has even launched a website dedicated to fighting vicious rumors about him (ex. that he is a Muslim).

Even so, will Obama’s rejection of public financing hurt his image as the change candidate? That depends on how much the media punishes him. But it is doubtful in this age of high gas prices, the war in Iraq, and an eroding healthcare system, that voters will choose to elect McCain because Obama refused to take 84.1 million taxpayer dollars to fund his campaign. Furthermore, Obama can point out that McCain used (or abused) the public financing system during the primaries to secure a line of credit worth 4 million dollars. McCain then tried to withdraw from the public financing system- a system which he had helped to set up.

Politics is and always has been a contact sport. It would be grossly unrealistic to expect Barack Obama to disadvantage himself to satisfy something he wrote on a questionnaire some months ago. If Obama were to accept public financing, he would be putting himself at a tremendous disadvantage to his Republican foe. Besides, when we consider the fact that Obama’s campaign is fueled by small donors, we must ask ourselves if this is not public financing, in a way. Whereas the McCain campaign still relies on large donors during this primary season (which is still going on, by the way), Obama has truly been able to inspire members of all socioeconomic classes to back his campaign. Would Obama’s detractors really be happier if the candidate took taxpayer dollars to fund his campaign? Probably, but the general public shouldn’t be. And besides, if this year’s presidential election is truly to be fair, the candidates must be on even financial ground. Obama accepting public funds certainly wouldn’t accomplish that.

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