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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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“There comes a point where it’s so obvious it’s merely a messaging effort and not a good-faith effort to meet us on competitive terms,” Mr. Bauer said. “It’s not clear what there was to talk about.”

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In alleging in his video that the McCain campaign has become a master “at gaming this broken system,” Obama slammed his opponent and the RNC for accepting donations from lobbyists and political action committees. He also scored McCain for not stopping attacks from 527 groups.

The Obama campaign officials acknowledged that 527s operate, by law, independently of the candidates, but they said the candidates can still make it clear when they disapprove of the groups’ activities. When McCain said last week that “I can’t be a referee of every spot run on television,” Bauer said, that effectively gave a “green light” to 527 activities.

Bauer also accused McCain of pretending to have the option of a publicly funded general-election campaign, while privately doing aggressive fundraising during the months between securing the GOP nomination in February and his party’s convention in September.

There is wide agreement within both parties and among experts that the public-financing system is broken. In January 2007, Sen. Russ Feingold (D) of Wisconsin and three House members introduced legislation aimed at updating the presidential public-financing system in part by increasing matching funds, but the legislation has not gone anywhere. Senator Feingold opposed Obama’s move Thursday, but said he looks forward to reforming the system under a President Obama.

“I’m very much in favor of public financing. However, the existing public-financing law has been flawed from the start,” says Robert Mutch, a campaign-finance historian. “The main problem ... is that it became too easy to get around it.”

At the Monitor breakfast, the Obama officials suggested that the senator has in effect introduced his own campaign-finance reform by effectively using the Internet to raise hundreds of thousands of donations, most of them under $100.

“Senator Obama is asking his supporters to build the first general-election campaign that’s truly funded by the American people,” said Mr. Gibbs, who noted that, through May, the campaign received 3 million contributions from more than 1.5 million people.

Overall, through April, Obama has raised more than $265 million versus almost $97 million for McCain. Campaign-finance expert Ellen Miller says Obama could not have opted out of public financing without the “transformative influence that the Internet has had on politics.”

“He will still be raising money from wealthy individuals, many of whom might be corporate executives and have their special interests at heart, but at least to date the majority of his money has come from citizens at large,” says Ms. Miller of the Sunlight Foundation.
Gail Russell Chaddock contributed to this report.