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June 19th, 2008
09:43 PM ET

Obama opting out of public financing a win-win for him, McCain

Roland S. Martin
CNN Contributor

When is the last time a decision by a presidential candidate ended up being good for him, and his opponent?

That is certainly the case with Sen. Barack Obama’s decision on Thursday to become the first candidate since the program went into effect in 1976 to make the bold move.

The move is a huge help to Sen. John McCain because he has cast himself as the fierce independent who is all about reform, even to the point of opposing President George W. Bush on key initiatives. By Obama ceding ground on this issue, he goes against all of the signals he sent for many months on the issue of public financing of campaigns.

Obama made the decision in a video message sent to his supporters, and it didn’t take long for the McCain to jump all over the decrying it as the clearest indication that the junior senator from Illinois is not the breath of fresh air that he has portrayed himself to be.
"Today, Barack Obama has revealed himself to be just another typical politician who will do and say whatever is most expedient for Barack Obama,” McCain communications director Jill Hazelbake said in a statement.

"The true test of a candidate for President is whether he will stand on principle and keep his word to the American people. Barack Obama has failed that test today, and his reversal of his promise to participate in the public finance system undermines his call for a new type of politics.”

Obama’s declaration in the past now allows McCain to say he’s the candidate who is prone to keeping his word, and not make the politically smart move.

Don’t be surprised to see McCain make this decision a significant part of his campaign, and he and his surrogates will hammer Obama repeatedly between now and November on the one issue that the senior senator from Arizona has made his calling card.

How does this help Obama? Easy, he will likely blow McCain away when it comes to fundraising, giving him a huge advantage in the fall election.

Obama would have been absolutely nuts to accept public financing because that meant he would have only been able to spend $85 million. He has already raised nearly $275 million thus far, and he will have the resources to dwarf McCain. No one thought he would be able to raise such vast sums of money, but with 1.5 million donors contributing to his campaign, he has amassed a formidable operation.

Had he stuck to his guns and accepted public financing, McCain’s team would have publicly lauded him, but laughed him off as a naïve fool for doing so. And his fellow Democrats would have berated him to no end for taking away the one area where they have lagged behind Republicans for years: fundraising.

This is a cat and mouse game, similar to McCain’s decision this week to back offshore oil drilling in the United States, despite years of saying he was against it. He knows it could backfire against him by appearing to be a flip-flopper, but McCain hopes the voters will put the $4 a gallon gas concerns over the long-term opposition to the drilling.

Obama’s risky move could severely tarnish the image he has burnished of being a different kind of politician. For hard core Democrats, they will welcome the decision, but the one group that might have a problem are independents. He’s hoping voters will accept his position that the Republican attack machine will blast him with unregulated funds. Obama also hopes that voters will take to his position on not taking funds from Washington lobbyists and political action committees.

Running for president is about taking risks. We’ll soon see who was right in this area.

Editor's note: You can read more from Roland S. Martin at rolandsmartin.com.


Filed under: Barack Obama • John McCain • Raw Politics • Roland S. Martin
soundoff (69 Responses)
  1. Julie Ilacqua

    Finally – a Democratic candidate is going to take on the GOP by beating them at their own money game. Once that happens, real campaign finance reform will be possible. Gotta run – time to make another donation to the Obama campaign. Go O!

    June 20, 2008 at 9:26 am |
  2. Debbie, NJ

    I strongly agree with Rita. I support programs I don't use. Obama doesn't need our tax money, McCain does. So let McCain use it. Nobody changes there minds or flip flops or lies more than McCain. McCain the senator who was absent for most of the votes and when he did vote he agreed with Bush 95% of the time. McCain who has changed his mind about things that effect the American people. Not taking public financing doesn't affect us. It affects Obama personally and his campaign. McCain's flip flop and change of mind hurts us.

    June 20, 2008 at 8:56 am |
  3. Henry, Kokomo, IN

    This is dishonesty with the American people. One of many Senator Obama has displayed during this campaign season. Senator Obama tells us he doesn't take money from special interests but his contributor list is full of lawyers and attorney firms. The cost of health care is high today because of lawyers and attorney firms.

    The other concern I have is Senator Obama's attitude towards older Americans. Senator Obama's constant attack on Senator McCain's age is an indicator of how Mr. Obama feels about all older Americans. It scares me to wonder what will happen with seniors, older veterans etc, if Senator Obama becomes president.

    June 20, 2008 at 7:52 am |
  4. Sandy

    If this is a flip flop by Obama then good for him! I'd rather send him my last $10 than hear that he took public money. Too bad he said he would take it, he changed his mind, why does that always have to be a flip flop.

    June 20, 2008 at 5:33 am |
  5. Laura

    This is the least of our peoblems... A year ago he may have thought a year ago he may have needed public funding. Real life: things change and people can change their minds. This is such a minor issue, lets focus on major issues. The war, High gas prices, our economy is falling quickly!

    June 20, 2008 at 5:30 am |
  6. Rafika

    Obama flip flopped?

    * McCain criticized TV preacher Jerry Falwell as “an agent of intolerance” in 2002, but has since decided to cozy up to the man who said Americans “deserved” the 9/11 attacks.
    * McCain used to oppose Bush’s tax cuts for the very wealthy, but he reversed course in February.
    * In 2000, McCain accused Texas businessmen Sam and Charles Wyly of being corrupt, spending “dirty money” to help finance Bush’s presidential campaign. In April, McCain reached out to the Wylys for support.
    * McCain supported a major campaign-finance reform measure that bore his name. In June, he abandoned his own legislation.
    * McCain used to think that Grover Norquist was a crook and a corrupt shill for dictators. Then, McCain got serious about running for president and began to reconcile with Norquist.
    * McCain took a firm line in opposition to torture, and then caved to White House demands.
    * McCain gave up on his signature policy issue, campaign-finance reform, and won’t back the same provision he sponsored just a couple of years ago.
    * McCain was against presidential candidates campaigning at Bob Jones University before he was for it.
    * McCain was anti-ethanol. Now he’s pro-ethanol.
    * McCain was both for and against state promotion of the Confederate flag.
    * And now he’s both for and against overturning Roe v. Wade and is ready to rape the everglades for oil.

    June 20, 2008 at 5:02 am |
  7. James Dylan

    Look at what Obama does now that he doesn't have Clinton to answer to. I cringe at the thought of him in the white house with nobody to answer to. God knows CNN won't ask him any questions he might not like. "Keeping them honest." More like keeping them as honest as they want to be.

    June 20, 2008 at 4:56 am |
  8. Angela

    Anne wrote:
    "He had signed a pledge and is now withdrawing – why would anyone want to vote for vote him?"

    It's sad that people in this country take voting so for granted that they vote based on petty unimportant JUNK like this. How does who takes what money from where make one person or another a better presidential candidate? Research your candidate. Look at the raw issues...then make an educated choice. Campaign funding one way or the other won't help the economy, bring an end to turmoil in the middle east, or improve quality of life for you and me. This isn't a high school prom queen election. Please people, take this year's election to heart. Our futures depend on our making a good choice.

    June 20, 2008 at 4:37 am |
  9. Mari

    Give me a break. I recall when McCain illegally hocked his campaign finance bundle to borrow a pile of money. The legality of that little trick has not been decided yet. But like his wife's comments about Michelle Obama (remember she has stolen drugs in the past by forging prescriptions) McCain has no moral high ground about opting out of the public financing. When he put up public financing money to secure a loan, perhaps some one who is interested in fairness should bring that little fact up about now. Say someone like Candy Crowley. Frankly often these days, I might just as well be watching Fox news the way your news anchors coddle both Senator McCain and his wife, Cindy. What in the world has happened to your fair and balanced claim.

    June 20, 2008 at 3:34 am |
  10. Dede (Ret US Army Vet)

    Why not, someone should let the money from hard working people go back to the people. If no ones noticed the decline in the little box on our income tax – maybe they should think of a way to give that monies back to the people. If a canidate can raise enough monies through large or small donations from the people – Oh is not that money from the public? So how many publics do when have anyway? Another thing, Anderson you have a segment called keeping them honest!! Lets start with your people. Play the tape of Mrs O – because you and your reporters and those that wish to mislead us say she said "For the first time I am proud of my county" No No No. She said " I have never been MORE proud of my county ect ect" It makes a difference. So let's keep them honest – I love your show so I was a little disappointed when you edited what she had said and what she meant about more and more people have come out to vote in this election year. So do me proud. By the way my son is on his third tour in Iraq. I was in the first one. My prayers go out to all the Mothers, Fathers, Wivies, Husbands and children. To quote Bush's daughter – why was it "not practical" for them to go to WAR, but practical for everyone else. (Sorry about that, little leftover anger).

    June 20, 2008 at 2:38 am |
  11. Geraldine (Geri) Khater

    I can imagine that when Mr. Obama took his first step on this long journey, he may not have dreamed that so many people would contribute so much money to him. Accepting public funding would have seemed to be the best option to choose. However, he asked ordinary people to support him with whatever amount they could contribute and they did big time. He has always been genuinely appreciative of each one of those dollars and the people who gave them to him. He IS being publicly financed. To fault him for not taking public financing funds is stupid. If his bucket of money is bigger than McCain's, good deal. If he's in this to win, then go for the gusto! People are too quick to take away another's right to change their mind, but dare someone take that right from them. Too bad Bush never seemed capable of changing his.

    June 20, 2008 at 1:55 am |
  12. dorothy

    Barack Obama, has the right to change his mind, just like Hillary Clinton, with Florida and Michigan, when she did not follow the rules and still wanted the votes counted, what do you call that "White Rights", and John McCain, is stuck like Glue with your incompetent President Bush and has Flipped and Flopped many times. I agree with Bill Clinton, if you can't take the heat get out of the Kitchen. Stop Whinning, and play the game, after all Barack Obama, is the New Kid on the Block. He has more intregrity than John McCain or Hillary Clinton. Chill Out!

    djg

    June 20, 2008 at 1:45 am |
  13. Shana

    I would just like to ask why one John McCain would hire high priced political strategist and then not listen to them, to me, that is not fiscally sound. Why pay for advice you ignore, sounds like our current administration. I'll pass.

    June 20, 2008 at 1:43 am |
  14. nicole endel

    once again i would like to point out that people are avoiding the topic of mccain accepting money from clayton williams you remember the guy with big oil connections raising money for him mccain refusing to return it which to me says he doesnt think that clayton williams comment about rape being something women may as well just lie back and enjoy AND one week later he wants off shore drilling allowed WHY is this not being discussed more I would think that Anderson c ooper the host of Planet in Peril would be discussing the connection between mccains change of position on offshore drilling and the possible consequenses of destroying the coral reefs instead of trying to demonize obama for Not useing TAX dollars to fund his campaign

    June 20, 2008 at 1:35 am |
  15. Drew

    Obama is right the "public finacing" system is broken and Mccain and the RNC (which buy the way raised twice as much funds as the DNC) will use tricks to spend more money than the allowed 85 million with 527 groups like Karl Roves "Freedom's Watch" that can spend an unlimited amount of millions of dollar to attack and defeat Obama it would of been stupid of him to accept to an offer with so many loop holes that the republicans will gladly exploited.
    Also I don't believe its right to use tax payer money on campaigns instead it should be the people who want that candidate to win who finance them thats true public financing

    June 20, 2008 at 1:28 am |
  16. James Dylan

    Obama took a big step towards buying this election and putting price tags on every further election. No this is very bad; if not for Obama, most definitely for the future of our Democratic Republic. Until now I was going to vote for Obama, but not now. First I thought it was just his supporters, Roland Martin and Jeff Toobin, I didn't like, but every decision he's made after the nomination process has become extremely alarming. Seeing his actions and the words of his followers, this is not the change this country needs, it's change this country should run from. He bought his nomination and now he wants to buy the election. This is far beyond any petty label of flip flop. Of course nobody will see it until it is to late.

    And CNN what happened to your journalistic integrity. Fire all of these supporters of candidates, Reverends, and hire some real journalist. I'm sure there's some out there who understand the importance of the role they're suppose to play. Or is the bottom line dollars with no sense?

    June 20, 2008 at 1:17 am |
  17. kim-chicago

    This is a ridiculous argument...the agreement he signed was not a legal document...This is a very serious campaign with very serious issues, and if Obama can finance his campaign taking money only from his supporters then more power to him...he is not fool enough to depend on the DNC for additional financing. I think it was imperative he took matters into his own hands!!

    June 20, 2008 at 12:35 am |
  18. Teresa from Oklahoma

    Well I guess I don't understand. It seems to me that if he can raise the money on his own from people that want to give, why not do it that way instead of taking tax money? What is all the fuss about? He changed is mind? People, who are not so stubborn and headstrong that they can't re-evaluate their decisions, change their mind all the time trying to make better decisions.

    June 20, 2008 at 12:29 am |
  19. Susan - North Haven, CT

    @ Annie Kate in Birmingham (first post on this blog):

    Sadly, the guy who would be keeping the scorecard you speak of passed away last week. Tim Russert immediately came to mind today when I heard this news. He would be asking Obama why the system that was working fine when he agreed to use it has suddenly turned into one that is "broken"....

    I miss Tim.

    June 20, 2008 at 12:29 am |
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