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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. stretch(mark) shherrill

    I commend sen. obama for his decision to work for the people,whereas misuse of public funding has gone too far.Somewhere, lost in the mist of the amendments of the
    constitution,so has been lost the building blocks of this great country.We have citizens trying to survive a hardship that is unimaginable,yet we turn there dispair into a political attack against one another.wt are we thinking?
    That has changed my outlook on the candidates overall.I feel most politicians are so worried about politicians,they forgot about politics and the American Public,DUH,were still here!Dare to be diff<its time for the the real american issues to be handled.We have our home to think about and it's about time!

    June 20, 2008 at 12:28 am |
  2. rube

    This entire subject concerning public funding has much to do with nothing. So, Obama decided to use the funds raised from supporters nation wide via the internet. He should be commended in fact that should become the requirement hence forth for all candidates running for public office caped at $200.00 per person. Face it McCain would have opted to do the same as Obama had he been to do likewise. McCain is whining because the funds Obama raised is leveling the playing field when the Republicans had banked on being able to out spend the Democratic nominee. Surprise! Believe me the fat cats with be dumping money as in the past in support of McCain, their corrupt funds is the real story. Flip flopping, come on guys lets come up with a original thought of substance.

    June 20, 2008 at 12:26 am |
  3. Timothy Solano

    I think that Obama with the not taking Govt. funding is an act of realizing the state of the people and in refreshing, sure patrotic, he should be appreciated for what he is trying to do for this country.
    I'm split but I think He would be best for this country.
    I think that the wife is detremental to both for both of them.
    Keep them out this year and focuse on the issues, who care what either one says.
    Macain and Obama should be concernerd with issues not what the hell the wife says. We are not electing the wife just the candate.
    i think they are hurting both of them, let's all just focuse on the people needs and wants.
    Hello... Gas prices, Cost of living, food prices, health care,come on with the crap.....
    I get to point sometime where I get tired of hearing about it as many of use do ,
    . Forget the wfe thing.
    Please Focus on he issues at hand why do we have to worry about what they are doing on top of the other things>>>>
    Sad state of affaires for this country.
    Thank you
    Timothy Solano

    June 20, 2008 at 12:16 am |
  4. Shana

    I can not stand people who are closed minded. Obama has made a great move and has kept his promise for change. I am glad that he is avoiding "big money" and going with the people. For me, I believe that makes me as an individual who has supported him more accessible to me. Obama is very strong, cares about the people and is very strategic. For those who believe that this is only about the dough-you do not understand "the Obama campaign strategy". Let's just get to the issues like the fact that a gas tax holiday is a joke and more drilling is not an answer for short term. It is a fact that many oil/energy companies have made record profits over the past several years. Now, all we need to do is make the oil companies reduce the prices for the American people. If their profits are no longer 30% + that will benefit the majority of the American people. Please let's get back to the meat and leave the peas for dinner.

    June 20, 2008 at 12:12 am |
  5. Linda/Ohio

    Anderson, won't you explain why the decision is a BIG DEAL. Originally, wasn't it put into place to keep things fair and equal, so that the wealthiest, or poorest were allowed a maximum to get elected, taking the money element out of politics? Yes, the system is outdated and broken but should be repaired, not scrapped, because there was a reason it was approved. Donna Reynolds on the blog above said that Obama sends out 1 million donation requests for $25 each and presto he has $25 million dollars. If it's that easy Donna, I hope Obama's request to send donations to those flood victims in Iowa and midwest states works that well. I'm sure we will all hear about the millions sent when it happens.

    June 20, 2008 at 12:05 am |
  6. chris

    Please tell me why is all the outrage. Is there a problem because obama will not take our money. c'mon please explain this to me why is this such a big deal !!!!!!!!!

    June 20, 2008 at 12:04 am |
  7. Bryan

    This is one of many promises I'm sure Obama will be "Changing" his mind on and God knows he's made far more than he can possibley keep.

    June 20, 2008 at 12:03 am |
  8. RobK

    THIS IS NO FLIP-FLOP!

    Obama NEVER said he's take public financing.

    He said he would "PRESERVE" public financing. He never said he'd take it.

    What about McCain's flip flop? In the primaries, he secured a loan for his campaign w/public financing. THIS IS ILLEGAL!

    June 20, 2008 at 12:02 am |
  9. Doris Durgin

    Great decision!!!
    Republicans are upset because now the Democrats have unlimited means of getting the message out and presenting thier ideas for our nation.

    Thank you Obama for not allowing John McCain and his opinions stop you from doing what is best for the campaign and the Democratic Party.

    June 20, 2008 at 12:01 am |
  10. glenda

    talk about flip flopping..first he didn't wear a flag pin or say the pledge of allegance..now he is a true patriot

    June 19, 2008 at 11:59 pm |
  11. Yvonne Rawson

    Considering that if Obama were to take this money that would probably be from the hard working tax payers of this country I say Thank You for not taking our money.
    The candidates for any office should raise money and if they don't have enough well get in a car or truck and do what should be done anyway go to as many homes as possible and actually talk to people and not at them.
    I have voted for President since I was of legal age and have yet to have any candidate come close to where I lived and live now. They just go to the big cities and the other towns and the back forty are not even thought of.
    No I am one person that who has not decided who I will vote for this year. I think for the first time I will wait and see who might run and not associated with either party.

    June 19, 2008 at 11:53 pm |
  12. Tara

    There is just too much talk about money , the amounts raised and spent are obscene.
    What about the issues that are important and when is Obama going to explain about " CHANGE " , so far we have seen politics as usual.
    I don't trust Obama , just too many shady associations in his life that without any doubt would have disqualified any other candidate.

    June 19, 2008 at 11:53 pm |
  13. Ann bigley

    Anderson, I 've always thought of you as fair until recently. You seem to have fallen in the same trap as most of the rest of the media -Obama can do no wrong, when he flip flops it is only changing his position whereas other candidates are labeled "flip flopers'. Hope you will strive harder to treat both candidates and their campaigns fairly.
    Obama's campaign does what it wants(refuse scarf wearers from photographs) and just issue a statement saying it is not our policy to exclude anyone.
    If you actually read this "thanks", Keep up the good work, we depend on you,
    Ann

    June 19, 2008 at 11:52 pm |
  14. Wyndi

    McCain needs to quit his whining, join the 21st century and use technology to participate in this election. His age is showing.

    June 19, 2008 at 11:48 pm |
  15. Lerod

    You guys at CNN are pathetic, Roland more so than others. For 6 months I watched you dog one candidate and anoint another the Messiah! Obama started the negativity at one of the debates.
    He disavowed Rev. Wright for political gain.
    He disavowed Mr. Ayers for political gain.
    "Bitter-gate"
    "Typical white person"
    Now he is reneging on a promise to accept public financing, you guessed it for political gain. This man is the biggest phony since the $3 bill. But no....you see no need to aggressively and fairly address his decisions. As a lifelong Democrat, I find myself rooting for the underdog, McCain.
    Oh by the way, I am an African American male.

    June 19, 2008 at 11:48 pm |
  16. Richard (Canada)

    I'm assuming that public financing = taxpayer's money?

    And Mr Obama doesn't want any TAXPAYER'S money?

    If so.... where's there problem?

    Feel free to send him to Canada if he's not elected... He would be a welcome change up here!!!!

    June 19, 2008 at 11:46 pm |
  17. Jeremy

    I would like to see both campaigns run off the money just raised by fund raising by the average person. No PAC (cough John Macain), no corporate donations. Just money from the average person.

    June 19, 2008 at 11:45 pm |
  18. Nancy

    Right On Obama! Thank god one of them is "conservative" with the taxpayers money......he doesn't need it. Obviously the Obama warchest, made up of small donors at $25 to $100 a pop gives support to the notion that there is a HUGE support base out there....giving.....and waiting to cast their vote.....the money talks!

    June 19, 2008 at 11:40 pm |
  19. Caleb

    Anderson
    I feel that you are this days unfair towards obama you push him harder than you do McCain I mean be neutral and let the money take care of itself. What about we take all that money he doesn't need anymore and give it to people along the Mississippi

    June 19, 2008 at 11:38 pm |
  20. patricio

    Why would anyone want to vote for him? Because he's doing the right thing, making Mac. Squirm. He's got my vote.

    June 19, 2008 at 11:35 pm |
  21. Kent Fitzsimmons,Illinois

    Hey.........so Obama doesn't want public financing. Good for him. Shouldn't it be good to not use the public's money for a campaign? McCain should opt out of the public financing option also. Let's take all that money and use it somewhere else. Fortunately, we will gladly give freely to Obama's money machine. I'll go to Obama's website tomorrow and give some more................money well spent.

    Obama 08

    June 19, 2008 at 11:26 pm |
  22. Kris Kuhlmann

    Obama doesn't have a sense of fair play- he has no compunction in doing whatever he wants. His actions are amoral and do not bode well for democrats- or democracy. I am already weary of his disrespect for the voters, and his disregard for American values. If Obama wins, the White House and the Congress (since he took over the DNC) will be bought and paid for by big money. There will be no satisfaction in saying, "I told you so."

    Kris K.

    June 19, 2008 at 11:23 pm |
  23. Linda/Ohio

    One more reason for some of us not to trust Obama. Even his signature on a document means nothing to American's. Is he hiding something? Are these contributions coming from people he has known for 20+ years but he really doesn't know? Just a very short time back, his campaign made excuses why they couldn't help pay off Clinton's debts, as is customary. Let's face it, with an unlimited amount of cash, anyone could get in and win. After all, isn't that partly how he beat Clinton in the primary. I have read earlier articles about his private schools and his grandparents in Hawaii, now this new ad he has out, portraits him as a poor kid on foodstamps, being raised by a single mom. Which is it? Just like the poor muslim women, I'm sure he knew the decision was being made. John McCain gets criticized for his lime green jello backdrop, while Obama is critiquing the race, religion and ethnic apparell of his background. This is not how I want my money spent by those in office. I wish Obama would give most of us enough credit to see through the propaganda. Just give us the facts and tell us the truth and if circumstances change, that influences your original decisions, just say so. Don't patronize those of us, for whom you will be working.

    June 19, 2008 at 11:17 pm |
  24. Lilibeth

    Here we go again with the "flip-flopper" label. It is so 2004...so unoriginal...

    June 19, 2008 at 11:15 pm |
  25. bk

    Roland,
    Quit trying to spin Obama lying and being a typical politician. I don't even like watching you anymore. You think Obama can do no wrong. Why don't you try being a little more fair. A lie is a lie!

    June 19, 2008 at 11:13 pm |
  26. Chad

    "The end justifies the means". That's what most of the world does, and that is what Senator Obama is all about. A typical politician. He is not different from all the other politicians. "Change" ? That's only an election slogan.

    June 19, 2008 at 11:03 pm |
  27. Donna Reynolds

    I received the email from Obama this afternoon, watched the video, and said "Right on!" This man is nothing short of brilliant. He is engaging his supporters using 21st century technology, making us feel a real part of his campaign. And, you're right, AC. By not accepting public financing, Obama can continue to raise money from the "little people," dwarfing McCain's campaign coffers and spending as much as he needs to to win the election.

    Obama's fundraising "campaigns" have also been smart. He sends an email looking for $25 from a million people and bang, he's raise $25M just like that. It's quick, it's easy, and it's painless. This is the way of the future, one more indication that Obama really is about change.

    June 19, 2008 at 11:01 pm |
  28. Dennis

    Take the campaign finance $$ and give it to those folk's along the Mississippi.
    They need it more.....

    June 19, 2008 at 11:00 pm |
  29. Anne

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

    June 19, 2008 at 10:57 pm |
  30. Richard

    So a guy accepts !,000,000 smaller donations from countless individuals who want to see change and out of hope contribute...that sounds like public financing to me and of the best kind...

    June 19, 2008 at 10:52 pm |
  31. Cindy Davis, Las Vegas NV

    Would McCain change his mind if he raised the amount of money we have donated to Mr. Obama?

    June 19, 2008 at 10:50 pm |
  32. Cindy Davis, Las Vegas NV

    About your interview with Bill Bennett on McCain being told what to do by his campaign advisors; "John McCain will do what the hell he wants to do." Isn't that what President Bush has been doing for the past 7 years? McBush is not what we need leading our country. We need a president that does for the people not for his own interest.

    June 19, 2008 at 10:49 pm |
  33. Ray Suzuki

    Barack is for change. This is evidently the first change. Should he become the next President, others (with money) will follow (opting out on public financing) using the rationale that if the President can do it why can't we. This will probably occur more at the local level vice national level. Is this change good or bad?

    June 19, 2008 at 10:48 pm |
  34. Cookie Good

    For all Americans to imbed in our minds.
    "All things are ready if our minds be so"
    Thanks
    Cookie Good
    Cozad Nebraska

    June 19, 2008 at 10:48 pm |
  35. Randall

    This is very disappointing. I understand Obama's decision, but it is totally politically motivated, he is only thinking about himself and his campaign. The system didn't break in the last months, and the Democrat party and the left-leaning 527s and PACs can do the same things (and are already) that Obama claims is behind his flip-flop on this issue. I voted for Barack Obama in the primary because I thought we maybe finally had a candidate who thought about this country and the people before himself and his party. Many strategists and analysts are saying this is a minor issue. It may be in the scheme of things, but it gives me pause on a few things that Senator Obama has been saying and wondering what he will do. He railed against NAFTA and now is backing off, he said he would take public financing and now he won't, maybe he isn't as principled as I had hoped. I think I'll go make a donation to John McCain and hope to even things out now.

    June 19, 2008 at 10:47 pm |
  36. rita

    I strongly support Medicare and Medicaid, but I don't use it. I strongly support a woman's right to choose and I chose life. I strongly support homosexual civil unions, but I am married with children. I strongly support Head Start, but I sent my children to privately owned preschools. I strongly support many rights and government programs that I do not use. This does not make me a hypocrite or flip-flopper. It is because I know some people need the help and I don't. I would not take away their right to these things simply because I do not need them. And if I can get better health insurance through my job or pay to send my kids to a great preschool, who would fault me? Is this not the American Way so proudly touted by the Republicans?

    June 19, 2008 at 10:43 pm |
  37. Will

    I just watched the clip from Obama's new advertisement that you showed this evening. And I couldn't help but remember (along with Carville's comment about "re-assurance") the controversial ad that Mike Huckeby played during Christmas with the cross-shaped window behind him. Maybe because of the recent rumors about Obama's faith have caused some problems he's using the same kind of subliminal advertisement to "re-assure" Americans of his Christian faith?

    June 19, 2008 at 10:41 pm |
  38. Boots

    If Senator McCain had the kind of grass roots financial support from the people Senator Obama has, I'm sure he'd be playing the grand 'independent of government financing' card himself.

    The facts are simple here: the everyday person has willingly given Obama enough money that Senator Obama now sees no need or reason to take money collected through taxes. What – should we be wanting him to get direct contributions AND pull money from a government which is running a gigantic deficit? That seems the height of fiscal silliness. This is not a question of morals, it's a question of simple financial management.

    June 19, 2008 at 10:38 pm |
  39. LM

    I'd like to see more thorough coverage of McCain's own weaving in and out of public financing for the primary. He has been using private funding while running in general election mode for some time now, after initially pledging to use public financing in the primary in order to qualify for some loans when he was in financial difficulty.

    So it is remarkably expedient for McCain to now say he is going to use public financing after having the benefit of private financing these past few months. Obama qualified his initial pledge to use public financing by saying he would pursue an agreement with his opponent, but his opponent has already had the benefit of being able to skirt the spirit of the law. So Obama is not going back on his pledge in my view, he simply is unable to see any path to a fair agreement.

    June 19, 2008 at 10:37 pm |
  40. Franky

    You know what's funny Anderson??? The critics talk like if my boy is "stealing" their money! LOL!!! TRUST ME, if anyone can bring in that much dough, I would assure you they would think twice. And to tell you the truth, I wonder how one person would feel if they had this opportunity at them??? I heard it all!! I heard the usual he broke his promise, I heard the "norm" that he's just a politician, I heard the usual thing over and over again. And to be honest, that's just too much dough!!! LOL!!!!

    June 19, 2008 at 10:37 pm |
  41. Don Dureau

    McCain is not going to know what hit him. This is a movement unlike anything ever experienced in the political process in this country. Obama will swamp McCain in policy, in money, and in votes. He will win almost every state in November agains McCain. They will not take this away from us this time.

    June 19, 2008 at 10:36 pm |
  42. Ned

    The system is no more broken today than it was years ago. The only thing that has changed for Barry Obama is that he thinks he can get more money this way. Profit not principle. I suppose thats "change".

    June 19, 2008 at 10:33 pm |
  43. Greg Lee

    I have always been against public finance and I think Sen. Obama did the right thing not to spend our tax money. I think the American tax money should be spent wisely such as health care, infrastructure and education. As independent I support Sen. Obama decision.

    June 19, 2008 at 10:30 pm |
  44. Patience

    You are right Mr Martin. It was a risky move and running for President is about taking risks. I think it was an obvious decision made by the Obama camp. It's all about change! Here is a man willing to take risks because of the views and support shown to him by the people. Doing the right thing when the wrong thing has been done for so long and by so many people isn't easy. Barack Obama doesn't need the so called 'public financing". The public has been financing him just fine. I am sure he wishes that he didn't have to go back on his word to make this decision, but he would have been an idiot and a coward not to.

    June 19, 2008 at 10:30 pm |
  45. Lacyne

    Hi Anderson, I am sorry but why not take money from donors and if John McCain and the republican party can not get people to support them tough. McCain flipflops all the time.

    June 19, 2008 at 10:29 pm |
  46. karen west

    Okay, let me see if I have this straight. Everyone is mad at Obama because he WON'T take public money? Please explain this to me.

    June 19, 2008 at 10:29 pm |
  47. Jason

    Well with all due respect to Roland Martin, but no matter what SEN Obama does or say, Roland seems to be the mouth piece for the Obama Campaign on CNN...kind of disturbing. Isn't the Obama campaign and alot of Democrats calling out Hillary Clinton for wanting to change the rules once they had agreed and so called signed a document on not counting MI & FL; then called her out on it and even saying she is trying to get the edge on the campaign by counting MI & FL the way the voted; EVEN though Sen Obama TOOK his name off the ballot...(No One forced HIM too)....

    No Obama is Doing the SAMETHING... He is a POLITICIAN...Just another one who will tell you any thing to get elected. I cannot in good conscience vote for him. His campaign will LIE and SPIN anything in a way that is GOOD for his campaign and dog others...

    June 19, 2008 at 10:27 pm |
  48. Jamie

    Honestly, the campaign-finance reform isn't all that it is cracked up to be. If McCain truly believed in campaign reform, it would NOT accept money from special interests and lobbiests like OBAMA!

    June 19, 2008 at 10:24 pm |
  49. Greg Erie PA

    Roland martin saying something that someone in the middle, like myself, agrees with. Whats the world coming to.

    June 19, 2008 at 10:07 pm |
  50. Annie Kate

    Roland

    This isn't the first time Obama had changed what he said on an issue. Even though he declares he is a new type of politician but all I have seen so far is the same old politics. This won't be the last time he "changes" his mind on something in this campaign. Someone should keep a scorecard.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    June 19, 2008 at 10:03 pm |
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