Today Barack Obama took to the editorial page of USA Today, laying out the conditions under which he would agree to accept public financing in the general election – an idea his campaign once embraced wholeheartedly, only to be seen as wavering in recent days.
While Obama reiterates his earlier promise to "aggressively pursue" a public financing agreement with the Republican nominee – likely John McCain – if he wins the Democratic nomination, Obama also says that such an agreement needs to go beyond accepting public funding: It also needs to include a promise by both candidates to "commit to discouraging cheating by their supporters; to refusing fundraising help to outside groups; and to limited their own parties to legal forms of involvement."
Those conditions weren't part of Obama's original statement on accepting public financing in November 2007, when he said in a Midwest Democracy Network questionnaire, "I will aggressively pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee to preserve a publicly financed general election." Now, it appears Obama wants that publicly financed general election to be relatively free of outside influences as well.
Campaigning in Ohio, McCain signaled he'd make Obama's financing an issue, particularly if the Illinois senator opts out of the public system. "We either keep our word or we don't keep our word. I intend to keep my word to the American people," he said, according to the Associated Press. "I think the American people would expect him to hold to that commitment, especially if we want to bring about change."
If Obama were to accept public financing as the Democratic nominee, he would have more than $80 million at his disposal to spend over two months – more than enough, even by this race's standards. But McCain would have the same amount, giving Obama no advantage for the final two months of the election. Still, Obama would be able to raise and spend money freely up until the moment he formally accepts the Democratic nomination, likely giving him an edge headed into what would be the campaign's home stretch.