Fingers pointing everywhere and not a dollar spent! The debate over whether John McCain and Barack Obama would opt in to the presidential public financing system for the general election rages on. Did Obama just break his pledge? Did McCain break the rules? Keep reading for a roundup of interesting perspectives.
Many months ago, both Barack Obama and John McCain indicated a willingness to opt in to the presidential public financing system for the general election if their opponent agreed to do the same. Now Obama is indicating he may not opt in, and McCain and Hillary Clinton are getting after him for changing his position.
McCain has problems of his own, however, as Mark Schmitt notes in this blog entry for The American Prospect where he digs in to the legality of McCain's manuever in, and then back out of, the public financing system for the primary election:
But on Saturday, the Washington Post reported that there was a second loan for $1 million on December 17 that pledged "incoming contributions" as collateral but did not exclude public money.
The story quotes McCain's lawyer as saying that the bank asked, " 'You've explained how you can pay us back if things go well. What happens if things go badly?'," and that the campaign explained, that "McCain could reapply in the future for federal matching funds," but that the existing certification was not used as collateral.
"McCain's victories in the early primaries meant he never had to enter the public financing system," the Post says. But this isn't quite right. At the time of the loan, McCain was in the public financing system ( the certification remained among the campaign's assets until Feb. 6, according to the Post). The question of reapplying in the future would have been irrelevant in December.
The Post suggests that "McCain may have inadvertently committed himself to entering the public financing system for the remainder of the primary season," which was my original argument, but it's pretty clear that his attitude toward the Federal Election Commission on this question is, "Come and get me!"
He also addresses the precise nature of Obama's pledge, which Schmitt interprets as more of an "agreement to negotiate" the public financing/527/indepedent expenditures stew that will arise in the general election, than a precise commitment to use public funds.
Meanwhile the Carpetbagger Report dredges up McCain's own mishmash of statements on the public financing question which indicate nothing so much as ambivalence about participating -- an ambivalence borne out in his actions during the primary cycle.
As the flip-flopper accusations fly, however, the Midwest Democracy Network pipes up with words of wisdom:
The President of the United States has a special responsibility to defend and preserve the values, institutions and practices that are so essential to a well-functioning democracy. At a time when young Americans are once again putting everything on the line to make the world safe for democracy in far away and dangerous places, it is not unreasonable to expect presidential candidates to tell the American people how they plan to move us all closer to the more perfect union our nation's founders envisioned.
Exactly. This ain't the time to nail people to wall over a presidential public financing program badly in need of updating and better funding. Instead we need to use this opportunity to address the genuine iniquities created by privately financed campaigns and get commitments to move towards a Clean Elections system at the federal level to give candidates without access to a stable of wealthy donors a chance to mount a competitive campaign for office.