The Obama “pledge” February 20, 2008Posted by koreanpower999 in 2008 Elections, Barack Obama, Democratic Party, Hillary Clinton, public financing.
“Senator Obama’s words are contradicted by deeds. He said he would — he pledged to take public financing as now Senator McCain has pledged. He has just reversed that pledge.
–Hillary Clinton surrogate Lanny Davis, CNN Late Edition, Feb. 17. 2008.
Obama spokesman Bill Burton on Thursday called public financing “an option that we wanted on the table,” but said “there is no pledge” to take the money and the spending limitations that come with it.–Associated Press report, Feb. 17, 2008, from Obama website.
Did Barack Obama ever commit himself to accept public financing for the general election if the Republicans made a similar pledge? The Obama and Clinton campaigns have been arguing this point for the last few days, and it is now the Fact Checker’s turn to weigh in.
The issue of public financing has come back to the fore now that John McCain appears to have locked up the Republican nomination. The Arizona senator has championed campaign finance reform. Last March, the McCain campaign publicly committed itself to accept public financing in the general election “if the Democratic nominee agrees to do the same.” In return for giving up the chance to raise hundreds of millions of dollars in private funds, both major candidates would receive around $85 million in public funds.
It is not only the Clinton campaign that is accusing Obama of breaking his word. Last week, a coalition of advocacy groups expressed “deep concern” at the possibility that the Illinois senator might wriggle out of what they depicted as a firm “pledge” to accept public financing in the general election.
To understand the background to this dispute, it is necessary to go back to February 2007 when the Obama campaign raised the possibility of accepting public funds with the Federal Election Commission. In a Feb. 1, 2007 letter to the FEC, lawyers for Obama asked whether the campaign could “provisionally raise funds for the general election but retain the option” of returning the contributions if an agreement was reached with other major candidates on accepting public financing. The FEC ruled on March 1 that this was permissable, as long as the general election funds were kept in a clearly separate account from the primary election funds.
The Obama campaign is correct in arguing that there is nothing in the Feb. 1 letter to the FEC that can be fairly interpreted as committing the campaign to accepting public financing. Obama spokesman Bill Burton told Politico on Feb. 28, 2007 that the senator would not necessarily commit himself to participating in the public financing system if the commission approved his proposal. “It would be a situation where if the Republican agreed to opt-in to the public financing system, it would be something we would explore,” Burton told Politico.
After the FEC issued its ruling, the rhetoric became less equivocal. On March 1, Burton challenged Republican candidates to follow McCain and agree to public financing. He said that Obama, if nominated, would “aggressively pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee to preserve a publicly financed general election.”
Many newspapers, including the Washington Post and the New York Times, interpreted this Burton statement as a commitment to accept public financing in the event of an Obama-McCain race. As far as I can tell, the Obama campaign made no effort to dispel this impression. His enthusiasm for public financing was a way of distinguishing himself from his rival Hillary Clinton, who was raising much more private money at the time.
The campaign went even further in answers to a questionnaire sent to the various political campaigns in September 2007 by the Midwest Democracy Network. The questionnaire posed a very simple question to the candidates: “If you are nominated for President in 2008 and your major opponents agree to forgo private funding in the general election campaign, will you participate in the presidential public financing system?”
You can read Obama’s response here. The candidate highlighted the simple answer “Yes” and elaborated as follows:
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.
When I asked Burton about this yesterday, he said that Obama would address the issue of public financing when he becomes the Democratic nominee and that it is premature to decide the matter now.
UPDATE: WED 11:30 A.M.
Obama has now elaborated on his position in an op-ed for USA today. The op-ed appears to set several conditions for reaching an agreement on public financing with John McCain. It talks about the need to also regulate spending by outside groups, and warns that considerable effort will be required to reach a workable agreement. Here is the key passage:
The candidates will have to commit to discouraging cheating by their supporters; to refusing fundraising help to outside groups; and to limiting their own parties to legal forms of involvement. And the agreement may have to address the amounts that Senator McCain, the presumptive nominee of his party, will spend for the general election while the Democratic primary contest continues.
In other words, the “pledge” comes with asterisks and lawyerly footnotes. It is far from a done deal.
The Pinocchio Test
The Obama campaign has said different things at different times on the issue of public financing. While there may have been a little wriggle room in some campaign statements, Obama’s affirmative answer to the Midwest Democracy Network seems unequivocal. Now that Obama is raising $1 million a day, his enthusiasm for public financing appears to have waned.
Two Pinocchios for the land-of-Lincolner.
Mr. Obama’s Waffle February 16, 2008Posted by koreanpower999 in 2008 Elections, Barack Obama, flip flop, John McCain, public financing.
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His commitment to pursue public financing for the fall campaign suddenly looks soft.
Washington Post – Editorials – Saturday, February 16, 2008; Page A20
AS RECENTLY as November, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) was unequivocal about whether he would agree to take public financing for the general election if his Republican opponent pledged to do the same. “If you are nominated for president in 2008 and your major opponents agree to forgo private funding in the general election campaign, will you participate in the presidential public financing system?” the Midwest Democracy Network asked in a questionnaire. Mr. Obama’s answer was clear. “Yes,” he wrote. “If I am the Democratic nominee, I will aggressively pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee to preserve a publicly financed general election.”Or maybe not. Mr. Obama deserves credit for obtaining a ruling from the Federal Election Commission that allowed him to raise money for the general election campaign but reserve the right to return the funds if he were to win the nomination and manage to arrange a cease-fire with the other side. That outcome, once improbable, is now within reach. The presumptive Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, agreed long ago to Mr. Obama’s deal, back when his prospects for securing the nomination seemed slim. Mr. McCain’s campaign manager, Rick Davis, reaffirmed that pledge this week at a lunch with reporters sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.
But Mr. Obama’s campaign, which has been raking in money at an astonishing clip of more than $30 million a month, is starting to hedge. Speaking to the Associated Press, Mr. Obama’s spokesman, Bill Burton, downgraded the Obama plan to “something that we pursued with the FEC and it was an option that we wanted on the table and is on the table.” Asked about the campaign’s earlier position, Mr. Burton said, “No, there is no pledge.”
It must be tempting for a campaign that has reached dizzying new financial heights to give up the guarantee of $85 million in federal funds for the prospect of being able to rake in even more — and to get a financial edge over an opponent whose fundraising has been lackluster and whose party seems dispirited. It must be chastening to think about the financial advantage that Mr. McCain will have in the months leading up to the convention, when Mr. Obama and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), his remaining Democratic opponent, may still be battling for the nomination while Mr. McCain is spending “primary” money to build the necessary architecture for the general election.
But this kind of backtracking and parsing isn’t what the millions of voters who have been inspired by Mr. Obama are looking for. It’s not befitting Mr. Obama’s well-earned image as a champion of reform. Instead of waffling, Mr. Obama should be pushing Ms. Clinton to go beyond her spokesman’s statements that she would “definitely consider” forgoing public financing.
Why not let the candidates raise as much cash as they can and save the taxpayers’ money? Because it’s better for voters if candidates spend more time talking to them and less time cozying up to donors. It’s better for democracy if candidates are less indebted to big bundlers who have raked in six- or seven-figure amounts for their campaigns. Mr. McCain seems to understand this. What about the Democrats?