Barack Obama has decided to forgo public financing in the general campaign against John McCain.
Is anyone surprised?
Obama has been a money magnet for some time. Forgoing public financing, he likely will outspend McCain by a ratio of two to one. More money means more advertising; more advertising means more spin. Advertising dollars are a protective wrap that keeps the candidate far from the prehensile grasp of inquiring reporters.
Obama also has decided not to appear with McCain in town hall settings, where both candidates might have a go at each other, opting instead to rely on canned public speeches. Some of the leads in newspaper stories mentioned that Obama “turned down $84.1 million in federal dollars” by opting out of the federal system, not exactly a selfless act. Well, if any of us could triple or possible quadruple the amount to money we would receive by waving away $84 million, what would we do?
There are no surprises here. Why should it surprise anyone that the candidate of change has changed his mind?
The evolution of that change has been caught by Politico in a series of wonderful to behold YouTube clips. The tortuous wriggling is fun to watch. Possibly, Obama’s former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright was right about him the former Chicago community organizer when he said, with a bemused smile on his face, that Obama was just an ordinary politician, a Houdini who could wriggle out of ropes with the best of them.
The first clip here shows Obama in June 29, 2006, fifteen months after getting sworn into office, “strongly supporting the public financing of campaigns.
In late January 2007, just before declaring his candidacy, talk show host Larry King asks Obama if he is going to stay in the public financing system.
Obama answers, “Well, you know, this is something that, obviously, we are going to have to take a careful look at. I'm a big believer in public financing of campaigns. And I think that for a time, the presidential public financing system works. Unfortunately, because funding has diminished relative to the cost of campaigns, I think you will see a lot of people opt out. And even as I support public financing, I think it's very important for Democrats to be competitive in the general election. That's a decision we are going to have to make.”
In Feb 2007, according to Politio “The Obama campaign brings in the lawyers, sends a letter to the Federal Election Commission asking if he could raise money for the general election while retaining the ability to opt back into the public financing system.” The FEC agrees and lays down minimal conditions.
At the end of Nov. 2007, responding to a candidate’s questionnaire, Obama writes “I will aggressively pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee to preserve a publicly financed general election.”
Feb. 20, 2008 In a USA Today op-ed, Obama again vows to “aggressively pursue” a publicly financed campaign.
Six days later, he bumps heads on the point with presidential debate moderator Tim Russert, who directly challenges him on the sincerity of his pledge. Russert, who died recently, must be smiling from wherever it is news people go when they die. He was a master, here as elsewhere, of the hangman’s noose question. In Russert’s hands, Obama’s commitment softens: “What I — what I have said is, at the point where I'm the nominee, at the point where it's appropriate, I will sit down with John McCain and make sure that we have a system that works for everybody.”
Two months later, in an April 27, 2008 interview with Chris Wallace of “Fox News Sunday,” Obama promises to sit down with McCain and talk about preserving “a public system.”
Here is Obama before he decided to game the system: "In February 2007, I proposed a novel way to preserve the strength of the public financing system in the 2008 election. My plan requires both major party candidates to agree on a fundraising truce, return excess money from donors, and stay within the public financing system for the general election. My proposal followed announcements by some presidential candidates that they would forgo public financing so they could raise unlimited funds in the general election. The Federal Election Commission ruled the proposal legal, and Senator John McCain (R-AZ) 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."
That meeting never occurred.
And finally, on June 19, 2008, the wriggling stops as Obama decides to forgo public financing. He alleges that Republicans have “become masters at gaming this broken system.” Obama will need the additional cash to restore integrity to the general campaign.
There is nothing new under this sun: Both parties have been gaming the system long before the Rev. Wright told us that Obama was essentially no different than other political gamers.
The real difference between the Republican and Democrat gamers is that the Democrats dispose of more gaming money.
Obama’s stash will be used to buy ads in traditional “Republican” states, forcing McCain to miss-allocate his pitifully small public financing funds.
Obama may now purchase his way into office, protected from both the media – Where’s Tim Russert when we need him? – and non-scripted assaults by McCain on the tefflon coated Democrat candidate for president.
Not a bad game -- if you can buy it.