Obama May Accept Public Financing Limits

Barack Obama and John McCain John McCain is trying to publicly shame Barack Obama into accepting federal fundraising limits in the fall campaign — and Obama is indicating that he might.

Hammering Senator Barack Obama for a fourth straight day, Senator John McCain said here on Friday that he expects Senator Obama to abide by his pledge use public financing for his general election if Mr. McCain does so as well. “It was very clear to me that Senator Obama had agreed to having public financing of the general election campaign if I did the same thing,” he said after a town hall meeting [in Oshkosh, Wisconsin]. “I made the commitment to the American people that if I was the nominee of my party, I would go the route of public financing. I expect Senator Obama to keep his word to the American people as well.”

Asked if he would use public financing even if Mr. Obama did not, he said: “If Senator Obama goes back on his commitment to the American people, then obviously we have to rethink our position. Our whole agreement was we would take public financing if he made that commitment as well. And he signed a piece of paper, I’m told, that made that commitment.”

Mr. Obama did not rule out the possibility of accepting public financing, but declared on Friday, “I’m not the nominee yet.” “If I am the nominee, I will make sure our people talk to John McCain’s people to find out if we are willing to abide by the same rules and regulations with respect to the general election going forward,” Mr. Obama told reporters at a news conference in Milwaukee. “It would be presumptuous of me to start saying now that I am locking into something when I don’t even know if the other side will agree to it.”

Last year, Mr. Obama sought an advisory ruling with the Federal Election Commission to see whether the campaign could opt out of public financing in the primary and accept it in the general election. It was merely an inquiry, he said, not a pledge to accept the financing.

If he wins the Democratic nominating fight with Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Mr. Obama said, “my folks will sit down and see if we can arrive at a common set of ground rules.”

My Ruckus-mate Oliver Willis implores Obama not to do this, saying it would be “the dumbest decision of the election.”

Here’s the deal: McCain is pushing this because McCain knows that going into the fall the Democrats will pound the GOP into the sand on fundraising. More Democrats are voting and caucusing, more Democrats are volunteering, more Democrats are excited about their

For the first time ever, the Democratic party is outraising the Republican party. The party and its candidate will have the resources to compete on a huge playing field, not just shoring up its blue state base and courting voters in swing states, but there will also be the ability to truly compete in those red states the GOP is holding on to by a thread.

It’s incredibly clever of McCain to take this stance. If Obama accepts, it would seemingly level the fundraising playing field, taking away what would appear to be a huge advantage. If he doesn’t, McCain can hammer the Democrats for hypocrisy and being beholden to special interests — while simultaneously claiming that he’s being “forced” to do the same in order to compete.

Then again, if Obama is the nominee, he would enter the general election race as the favorite. It may well be that limiting the amount of money that can be spent — any major party nominee could raise more than $85 million if need be — would be to his advantage. The more the contest depends on free media like debates and the less it depends on television attack ads, the better for Obama, I’d think.

Photo source: EastValleyTribune via Google.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. crat3 says:

    Obama is running on hope, inspiration, change, no substance, no specifics. So he says, “my folks will sit down and see if we can arrive at a common set of ground rules.” Is this how he would run his presidency – decisions by “my folks”? The answer is simply a yes or no to public campaign financing. Obama shows he is not a decisive decision maker and he would depend on “folks” to make his decisions because he got no substance. He would be another four years of Bush-style presidency.

    There is also rivalry and bad blood between McCain and Obama in the Senate, so Obama, the great uniter, ain’t going face-to-face with McCain but delegating decision making to his “folks”.

    In contrast, Hillary Clinton would be a hands-on, decisive decision maker, making change real in leading our country forward in a new direction.

  2. Mark O says:

    Obama is taking a sensible approach – after all, he’s not the nominee yet. Why telegraph one’s position to your opponent before you need to? It’s a basic negotiating skill. Anyway, what’s all this about Hillary being a “hands-on, decisive decision maker?” She hasn’t exactly made many great decisions in this campaign, has she? Money troubles, bickering staff, an uncontrollable spouse, changing the focus of her campaign just about every week. Ready to lead from day one? What a joke!

  3. Cernig says:

    As a non-involved Leftie Brit, I find it interesting that people so readily accept the false meme that Obama has no actual policies. He has a 64 page PDF of them on his website and actually goes into a bit more detail than Clinton’s website does about her very similiar plans.

    It appears that, having so little light between policy platforms, the Clinton campaign is trying to make her opponent’s platform disappear by talking it away. (This, of course, is something conservative campaigners are just fine about helping with.)

    James, you’re right that Obama should accept McCain’s offer. It would put clear daylight between Clinton’s “play to win” campaign and Obama’s “it’s about more than just winning – it’s about how you win” rhetoric.

    But he should do so by one-upping McCain and pledging not to support or allow 527 attack ads favoring his campaign – and very publicly ask McCain to pledge likewise. That would either take away McCain’s strongest election card or expose McCain as the pledge-breaker, which would in turn allow Obama to renege with honor.

    Regards, C

  4. Mark O says:

    Cernig, There are a number of ways Obama could play this. But a problem I see with committing himself too early (and especially at this sensitive phase of the campaign) is that he doesn’t want to be seen to be throwing away the Democrats’ fundraising advantage in this unusual election year. Not something that would impress the superdelegates I expect. They want someone who can beat the Republicans, so why do a deal with McCain at this stage that could be construed as giving too much away? I know Clinton would pounce on it (which is, I suspect, what crat3 would like to see happen). McCain’s just mischief-making at the moment, and Obama has to play this with a straight bat (as you say in cricket).

  5. Triumph says:

    I anticipate that the sneaky Hussein will “agree” to spending limits with mcCain, but that his oil-baron Islamic backers will likely fund 527s that will run attack ads against Mccain.

    Luckily, the American people will see through the Imamn’s plans and reject their pawn, B. Hussein.

  6. Mark O says:

    Yeah, well, if Triumph is typical of those opposing the good senator from Illinois, then I don’t think he’s got much to worry about. Not much brain power behind those comments.

  7. jeff b says:

    The more McCain runs his yap on this topic, the more conservatives are reminded that they hate him because of campaign finance reform. So yap away, John McCain.

  8. just me says:

    Yep, if he accepts the limits, this thing will be the year of 527’s.

    Actually limits or no limits, I suspect 527’s will be playing a huge role.