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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Will Barack Obama Break His Campaign Pledge About Public Financing?

Politics being what it is, politicians always make promises, get votes and then we generally see some of those promises broken after they take office. It happens. Today we ask if Barack Obama is going to break his public financing pledge?
Going through hundreds of news articles, blog postings and videos a day to find something that makes a writer want to write a piece is the norm for those of us that enjoy writing and today was no different.

Following link after link finally led me to something that brought me to that one article that caught my eye and almost demanded that I start typing away.

A blog called Patterico's Pontifications led me to a PDF where I was able to verify what Patterico had written, but further searches on the keywords "public financing" brought me far more information, which led me back to a February of 2007 New York Times article.

The beginning of the story.

The Democratic and Republican frontrunners rejected public financing for the primaries and prepared to reject it for the general election campaign, which at that time was over a year off. They argued that the limit of $85 million per nominee the following year (2008) did not keep up with the rising costs of running a campaign.

Barack Obama, campaigning on pledges to clean up politics, sought a ruling from the Federal Election Commission (FEC), making the argument that "the public financing system had insulated candidates from a corrupting dependence on big donors. He asserted that the system could be preserved for the general election through bipartisan agreement if party nominees returned early contributions."

The ruling that Obama was asking the FEC to make, was he wanted to be able to collect as much as possible for the primary campaign, but then wanted to be able to return the excess monies if he won the Democratic nomination, so he could match John McCain and use public financing for the general election.

It was pretty straight forward.

The middle of the story.

It was reported on February 13, 2008, that John McCain would "abide by his promise with Obama to accept public financing in the general election, as long as both sides are committed to it."

February 17, 2008 and the Clinton campaign accuses Barack Obama of breaking his "pledge" to "take public financing in the general election if the Republican nominee agreed to do so as well."

Howard Wolfson, who was the Communications Director for the Clinton Campaign, said in a statement at that time, "It now appears that Sen. Obama made a promise to the American people that he is not keeping. That’s wrong. That’s not change you can believe in."

By that time Barack Obama was bringing in campaign donations, hand over fist, as the expression goes and when pressed about the "pledge", Obama spokesman Bill Burton called it an "option", not a pledge, saying, "We're looking to see if we can preserve the option."

I asked Burton again today if this was a "pledge," and he repeated that it's an "option."

"The only reason this is an option is because we pursued the decision from the FEC. As the Clinton campaign continues to remind you, Obama is not the nominee, but this is a question we will address when he is," he said in response to Davis' remark.

So, was it a pledge or simply a campaign trying to keep a certain "option" open?

That is where Patterico's piece now comes in, to which he points out a questionnaire, via PDF, where on page 5 is the following question and answer.

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?

OBAMA: Yes. I have been a long-time advocate for public financing of campaigns
combined with free television and radio time as a way to reduce the influence of
moneyed special interests. I introduced public financing legislation in the Illinois State
Senate, and am the only 2008 candidate to have sponsored Senator Russ Feingold’s (DWI) bill to reform the presidential public financing system. 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.


Today we see an article in the Washington Post, which brings up this very issue, where they say, "Mr. Obama's campaign now claims that his earlier promise was not to stay within the public financing system if his opponent agreed to do the same, as Mr. McCain has done, but merely to pursue such an agreement."

It is entirely understandable that Barack Obama's campaign would not prefer to run a campaign with public financing that would only allow $85 million to be spent by each candidate, because news reports show that Obama fundraisers expect to bring in 100 million in June alone.

Whether it is understandable or not is not the question though, the question is whether he agreed "to forgo private funding in the general election campaign" and whether he would agree to "participate in the presidential public financing system".

His answer was an unqualified yes in the questionnaire above, but there seems to be some question of whether he will keep that "pledge" or break his campaign promise to "aggressively pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee to preserve a publicly financed general election," because it would be inconvenient now.

When it comes to politics and politicians, is there really any "change we can believe in", or is it just another campaign slogan?