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article imageFact Check.org- Obama on Public Financing: A 'Lame Excuse" and 'Large Exaggeration'

By Susan Duclos     Jun 20, 2008 in Politics
Barack Obama opted out of public financing, marking the first time a presidential candidate has done so since 1976 and his comments on why he did so have been scrutinized by FactCheck.Org and found to be a "large exaggeration" and a "lame excuse".
In the aftermath of Watergate, Congress passed the Federal Election Campaign Act, instituting a system of full public financing for general election candidates. Candidates who qualify and agree to abide by certain restrictions receive payments from U.S. Treasury. The federal payments come out of the Presidential Election Campaign Fund, which is filled by the $3 check-off on federal income tax forms.
Public financing would allow each presidential candidate approximately $84 to 85 million on their campaign and Barack Obama previously stated (page 5 of the PDF file linked) that he would "aggressively pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee to preserve a publicly financed general election."
Yesterday Barack Obama announced that he was opting out of the public financing and he gave his reasoning, one of those reasons being, "John McCain's campaign and the Republican National Committee are fueled by contributions from Washington lobbyists and special interest PACs. And we've already seen that he's not going to stop the smears and attacks from his allies running so-called 527 groups, who will spend millions and millions of dollars in unlimited donations."
Fact Check.Org has analyzed the truthfulness of that statement and has determined (via Newsweek) that it was a "large exaggeration" and a "lame excuse" and they showed the actual data which does not support Barack Obama's assertions.
We find that to be a large exaggeration and a lame excuse. In fact, donations from PACs and lobbyists make up less than 1.7 percent of McCain's total receipts, and they account for only about 1.1 percent of the RNC's receipts.
FactCheck goes on to list the exact amounts that John McCain and the RNC has received from lobbyists and compared it to the totals received and their findings are not consistent with Barack Obama's claim.
McCain – As of the end of April, the McCain campaign had reported receiving $655,576 from lobbyists, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That is less than seven-tenths of 1 percent of his total receipts of $96,654,783. His campaign also took in $960,990 from PACs, amounting to just under 1 percent of total receipts. The two sources combined make up less than 1.7 percent of his total.
RNC – The Republican National Committee has raised $143,298,225, of which only $135,000 has been come from lobbyists, according to the CRP. That's less than one-tenth of 1 percent. It also took in about 1 percent of its receipts from PACs, CRP said. Taken together, that's about 1.1 percent from PACs and lobbyists.
Obama's own words showed his previous reasoning on why public financing for a general election was so important to him, when he said (from the PDF linked above), "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."
There is also the fact that Obama filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) seeking a ruling from them where he argued 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."
That was reported back in February and things have changed for Barack Obama. He has collected an awesome amount of money, and realistically, why would he want to limit himself to only $84.1 million?
Pragmatically his decision is sound but considering his previous position on the exact topic, it is being said that he is going back on his word, his pledge and his ethics.
John McCain spoke about this very issue after Obama made his announcement by saying, "Today, Barack 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. 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. Barack Obama is now the first presidential candidate since Watergate to run a campaign entirely on private funds. This decision will have far-reaching and extraordinary consequences that will weaken and undermine the public financing system.”
Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader has also spoken out about Obama's decision to turn his back on public financing, by saying, "The old Obama said he would abide by public spending limits in this election. The new Obama he says he won't....You know where Nader and Gonzalez stand on corporate power. And that isn't changing."
Not only are Obama's opponents criticizing his decision but column after column in major newspapers, even those that have been supportive of the Obama campaign, are hammering Obama on his decision.
David Lightman write for McClatchy Newspapers writes that Obama's decision to forgo public money "is not only a huge blow to the Watergate-era campaign finance system, but it could hurt the Democratic nominee's effort to paint himself as a reformer."
In a New York Times editorial they assert, "The excitement underpinning Senator Barack Obama’s campaign rests considerably on his evocative vows to depart from self-interested politics. Unfortunately, Mr. Obama has come up short of that standard with his decision to reject public spending limitations and opt instead for unlimited private financing in the general election."
In yet another New York Times editorial, David Brooks says that Barack Obama is the most split-personality politician in the country today:
On the one hand, there is Dr. Barack, the high-minded, Niebuhr-quoting speechifier who spent this past winter thrilling the Scarlett Johansson set and feeling the fierce urgency of now. But then on the other side, there’s Fast Eddie Obama, the promise-breaking, tough-minded Chicago pol who’d throw you under the truck for votes.
The Wall Street Journal says that "The fact remains that the decision is a large and telling Obama flip-flop."
The USA Today says it is disappointing "particularly for a candidate who claims to be running as a reformer and a different kind of politician." They go on to make the point, "Real reformers don't do it just when it's convenient. The best way for Obama to support public financing is not to fix it later, but to participate in it now."
ABC News, CBS News, and NBC all carried the story, some showing prior interviews where Obama said he would observe the spending limits, others saying he "abandoned his pledge", all hammering away at this controversial decision, with the New York Times Politics page headlining with, "Obama’s Decision Threatens Public Financing System."
On and on it has gone today with everyone weighing in about this decision and then while researching this piece, I run across another promise that Barack Obama made long ago, in an interview with the recently deceased Tim Russert,
MR. RUSSERT: But there seems to be an evolution in your thinking. This is what you told the Chicago Tribune last month: “Have you ruled out running for another office before your term is up?” Obama answer: “It’s not something I anticipate doing.” But when we talked back in November of ‘04 after your election I said, “There’s been enormous speculation about your political future. Will you serve your six-year term as United States senator from Illinois?” Obama: “Absolutely.”
SEN. OBAMA
: I will serve out my full six-year term. You know, Tim, if you get asked enough, sooner or later you get weary and you start looking for new ways of saying things. But my thinking has not changed.
MR. RUSSERT: So you will not run for president or vice president in 2008?
SEN. OBAMA: I will not.
That was from "Meet the Press" Jan. 22, 2006.
Are politicians really expected to keep their promises?
[Update] The Politico offers a guide (via videos) of a a multimedia trip back in time (thank you, YouTube) to revisit some milestones in Obama’s evolution on the issue.
More about Obama, Public financing, John McCain
 
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