Before It's Too Late

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Sen. John McCain has been on the receiving end of most of the finger-wagging on the campaign finance front in recent days but the New York Times takes a moment to admonish Sen. Barack Obama as well for what they feel is a diminished commitment to the presidential public financing program, which the Times supports and wants to see strengthened for the coming years.

Should Obama be the Democratic nominee for President and opt out of the public financing program he would be the first general election candidate to do so since the program was started, and it could hurt efforts underway to direct more funding to the program and make the grants it makes to candidates more competitive:

Yes, the public subsidy for presidential elections has been badly eroded by inflation after three decades. But unless those who lay claim to the presidency set an example by taking the public money, reform seems unlikely. Begging, borrowing and spending as much lucre as they can lay their hands on and disdaining public financing is a recipe for certain failure.

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As a candidate running against money-driven Washington, Mr. Obama should follow his initial instinct to defend the public alternative. Otherwise, the 2012 campaign will become an even less inhibited chase after special-interest donors. Even with the Obama Web boom, a good half of all primary money — some $366 million — still comes from individuals giving $1,000 or more.