The Early Word: Obama Opts Out of Public Financing
By Michael Falcone
Updated In a video message sent to supporters this morning Senator Barack Obama said his campaign had made the decision not to participate in public financing during the general election. It marks the first time since 1976 that a major party presidential candidate has rejected public financing for the general election.
“It’s not an easy decision especially because I support a robust system of public financing of presidential elections,” Mr. Obama said in the video. “But the public financing of presidential elections as it exists today is broken.”
He complained that the campaign of his rival, Senator John McCain is “fueled by contributions from Washington lobbyists and special interest PACs.” Mr. Obama said he would run his campaign on small donations.
“If we don’t stand together, the broken system we have now, a system where special interests drown out the voices of the American people will continue to erode our politics and prevent the possibility of real change,” he said.
Mr. Obama, who has shattered fund-raising records for candidates of either party, has been signaling for months that he was considering bypassing public financing for the general election. He had previously indicated that he would stay in the public financing system if the Republican nominee did so as well.
“If I am the Democratic nominee, I will aggressively pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee to preserve a publicly financed general election,” Mr. Obama wrote in a questionnaire last November.
Mr. McCain has been increasingly offering indications that he will partake in public financing, a decision that would bar him from accepting private donations for the fall and limit his general spending to the $84.1 million that the Treasury would provide.
The McCain campaign’s communications director, Jill Hazelbaker, reacted swiftly to this morning’s announcement, saying that Mr. Obama “has revealed himself to be just another typical politician who will do and say whatever is most expedient for Barack Obama.”
“The true test of a candidate for President is whether he will stand on principle and keep his word to the American people,” Ms. Hazelbaker said in a statement. “Barack Obama has failed that test today, and his reversal of his promise to participate in the public finance system undermines his call for a new type of politics.”
She added that the campaign’s decision “will have far-reaching and extraordinary consequences that will weaken and undermine the public financing system.”
We’ll have more updates as this story develops.
Mr. Obama’s campaign is also working to polish his image at the same time that aides try to retain a sense openness and transparency as Internet rumors and misinformation swirl around him, The Times’s Jeff Zeleny and Jim Rutenberg report. They write:
Mr. Obama’s campaign is making a transition typical of any newly minted presidential nominee preparing for a general election race. It mirrors the stagecraft once so successfully practiced by the campaigns of President Bush to the envy — and, sometimes, anger — of Democrats.
“This guy is one of two people who can be president of the United States,” said Stuart Stevens, a Republican strategist for President Bush in his 2000 and 2004 campaigns. “He’s not going door-to door-in Iowa anymore, and I think people expect things to be different when you’re the nominee.”
In a fresh example of the difficulty of crafting a favorable image, the Obama campaign on Wednesday had to apologize to two Muslim women who were not allowed to stand behind the candidate a rally in Detroit earlier this week.
Senator Obama is spending the day in Washington where he will meet with labor leaders as well as members of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Women’s Caucus, according to his campaign.
The Washington Post’s Alec MacGillis has more on the Obama campaign’s efforts to court the labor community.
USA Today’s Daniel Burke reports that Mr. Obama is setting his sights on the religious vote, “making a full-throttle push for centrist evangelicals and Catholics”:
It’s a move that’s caught off guard some conservative evangelicals, who say they are surprised and dismayed to see a progressive-minded politician attempting to conscript their troops. At the same time, they say Sen. John McCain has done little to court their affections.
Senator McCain travels to Iowa today to survey flood damage there. He’ll be in the state at the same time as President Bush though they will be keeping separate schedules.
In a speech about energy policy on Wednesday Mr. McCain unveiled a plan to build 45 nuclear reactors by 2030. The Times’s Elisabeth Bumiller notes that Mr. McCain “has long promoted nuclear reactors, but Wednesday was the first time that he specified the number of plants he envisioned.” He said over the long-term, he would like to see 100 new nuclear plants built.
Campaign Trail Roundup:
* Sen. Barack Obama is in Washington meeting with labor leaders as well as members of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Women’s Caucus.
* Sen. John McCain surveys flood damage in Iowa and holds an evening town hall meeting in St. Paul, Minn.http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/06/19/the-early-word-obama-opts-out-of-public-financing/index.html?hp