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Obama opts out of public funding for campaign

He’s the first major-party candidate to opt out of public finance since advent of system.

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In a controversial but not unexpected move, Sen. Barack Obama has opted out of the public financing system for presidential candidates.

The decision by the presumptive Democratic nominee, announced to supporters in a video message Thursday morning, makes the senator the first major-party candidate to depart the system for the general election since its inception in 1976.

Senator Obama had strongly suggested he would stay within the system earlier in the campaign, but as he racked up impressive fundraising totals in his run for the nomination, it became clear that he could be better funded by forgoing public financing.

In a Monitor breakfast held moments after Obama’s announcement, two senior campaign officials laid out the rationale for opting out. They blamed Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee and a longtime advocate for campaign-finance reform, for gaming the system. They also blamed so-called 527 groups, which operate independently of the campaigns and can take unlimited and unregulated donations, for rendering public financing unworkable.

“This system is broken,” said Robert Gibbs, communications director of the Obama campaign, at the Monitor event. “It’s now being manipulated and gamed by entities that possess and spend far in excess of what is allocated to each of the candidates to spend in the general.”

If Obama had opted to stay in the federal system, he would have been granted $84.1 million in taxpayer money to compete in the general election. But Obama’s fundraising prowess – he raised a record $55 million in February alone – means he will likely have far in excess of that to compete against Senator McCain.

Obama’s campaign appears to be gambling that it’s worth it to take a hit now for backtracking on its stated intent to stay in the federal system but reap the larger benefits of a financially flush campaign.

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