Use It or Lose It

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Much as the Philadelphia Inquirer did yesterday, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch raps Sen. Barack Obama across the knuckles for his recent statements about the presidential public financing system and whether or not he would run with public funding in the general election. The paper would rather see the Republican and Democratic candidates for president use public funding in the general election than mince words about the value of the program.

With both Sen. John McCain and Sen. Obama setting themselves up as reformers, it's important to see action on reducing the influence of private money on elections to back up the words they've used decrying that influence:

Mr. Obama, having found a way to tap millions of small donors, says he's already avoiding the "in-hock to fat cats" problem. There also is no doubt that Mr. Obama he could raise substantially more than $85 million for the fall campaign, from fat cats and thin cats alike. We hope he avoids that temptation.

America's campaign finance system is badly broken; indeed, the Federal Election Commission, which enforces these matters, currently doesn't have enough members to constitute a quorum, thanks to political haggling. For the major party candidates to run this fall as reformers — and do it with public money — could be a first step to serious progress.

If candidates for the Presidency don't use the public financing system, will there be sufficient impetus to keep it alive, make the fixes required, and improve it for future cycles?