A couple weeks ago, McCain reached out to the Obama campaign and agreed to only use public financing for the general election in Fall 2008 if Obama kept his previous promise to also use public funds. For a while, it seemed like Obama was in a tough situation. Either he would break his previous promise to use only public funds, which would injure his credibility on ethics issues, or he would be forced to lose his massive fundraising advantage over McCain by accepting parity in funds.
The New York Times reports that Obama tried to avoid this double bind by adding conditions to an agreement to accept public financing that would include promises to limit other types of campaign spending (527 groups and DNC/RNC spending). I agree with the NY Times that this attempt was very disingenuous, as his comments last year about public financing made very clear that he thought candidates had an ethical demand to use public financing (which would preclude recent attempts that sound more like a child saying “if he doesn’t, why should I”). However, this response has appeared to limit much of the damage McCain had hoped to leverage against Obama in the press.
Today, Obama receives much better news on this front as the FEC announced that McCain will not be able to withdraw from the public financing system for the rest of the primary season. This not only will limit McCain to spending only 5 million for the next few months if the ruling holds, but also takes away the moral high ground from McCain, as he took out a loan with tricky stipulations that required public financing as a guarantee for the loan.
Personally I believe that Obama and McCain should both stop squabbling over this issue and happily eschew public funding. Right now campaign laws are still not rigorous enough to prevent corporate money from influencing the race even if candidates do take all public funds. If Obama or McCain wish to take the high road, they should privately fundraise at all stages of the election and be transparent in their efforts to not take corporate donations. For Obama especially, this would be the wisest choice, since he can likely raise much more than the 84 million provided by public funds through his expansive small donor base.