Opt In, Opt Out

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Will 2008 be the first presidential election since 1976 when neither major party presidential candidate opts into the partial public financing system? Sen. John McCain and Sen. Barack Obama have both said they would opt in if their opponent does the same, but with at least the Democratic nomination still up in the air the two are playing chicken over who will announce their intention to opt in (or out) first.

This presidential race is going to break all kinds of raising and spending records, and signals an acute need to revisit the structure and funding level of the presidential public financing system so that candidates who do choose to participate are not placed at a disadvantage compared to their privately funded rivals. One might argue that should McCain and Obama go on to contest the general election we'd be in an excellent position to have a real debate about money in politics, since both have built reputations in part on attention to ethics and campaign finance issues. However, if both opt out of the presidential system in the general election the money chase will escalate even further, and debate on the issue could be eclipsed by the need to raise money.

Since money is treated as shorthand for a candidate's long-term viability and level of public support it's not surprising that acquiring it is more important to McCain's campaign than finding a vice-presidential candidate. Hey, it's just about who we're picking to run the country here. It can wait.