Obama Poised To Turn Down Public Financing

Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama D-Ill., picks out some snacks during a stop at ShopRite grocery store in East Norriton, Pa., Wednesday, April 9, 2008.(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
AP
This story was written by CBSNews.com political reporter Brian Montopoli.

Eighty-four million dollars sounds like a lot of money to spend in just over two months. But for Democratic frontrunner Barack Obama, it may not be enough.

Obama, like presumptive GOP nominee John McCain, is eligible for public financing should he be named his party's nominee. But if he takes the money, which would be allocated after the Democratic National Convention in late August, Obama would have to agree not to raise or spend money on top of what the government has provided. And Tuesday night, the Illinois senator indicated that's a deal he may well turn down.

"We have created a parallel public financing system where the American people decide if they want to support a campaign they can get on the Internet and finance it," Obama said at $2,300-per-person fundraiser in Washington D.C., "and they will have as much access and influence over the course and direction of our campaign that has traditionally been reserved for the wealthy and the powerful."

Obama's "parallel public financing system," of course, is his robust fundraising apparatus. The Illinois senator raised an $40 million in March, bringing his total to more than $230 million; McCain, by contrast, took in about $15 million last month and has only taken in about $75 million overall. Hillary Clinton has also raised large sums - more than $175 million so far - and has said she would opt out of public financing.


The Money Race
Check out February tallies for Clinton, Obama and McCain, including how much they've raised and spent since the campaign began.
Perhaps it's no surprise, then, that while Obama appears to be shying away from public financing, McCain's advisors tell CBS News the Arizona senator is likely to embrace it - something every major party candidate has done in the general election since the system was created in 1974.

Obama didn't always feel this way. Last March, Obama spokesman Bill Burton said the candidate would "aggressively pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee to preserve a publicly financed general election." Obama also told the Midwest Democracy Network, in a questionnaire, that he would participate in the system, writing that he had proposed a system in which "both major party candidates...agree on a fundraising truce, return excess money from donors, and stay within the public financing system for the general election."

The Obama campaign has since suggested that Obama never vowed to take public financing, with Burton stating on Feb. 17 of this year that "there is no pledge." But McCain has hammered Obama for what he says is a clear case of the senator potentially breaking his promise.

"We both made a commitment to take public financing. There's nothing to talk about. We either keep our word or we don't keep our word," McCain said in New York Wednesday.

"Obama is trying to claim the moral equivalency ground by saying his broad base of individual small dollar donors is roughly the same thing as public financing," said Rogan Kersh, associate dean of New York University's Wagner School of Public Service. "McCain is trying to say he promised to do one thing and now he's doing another. Obama is really hoping that he can make the moral assertion as opposed to being seen as a hypocrite or a flip-flopper."