Setting The Record Straight

Today’s Electoral Map: Obama: 340.3 EV ; McCain: 197.7 EV

The McCain campaign is spinning hard and fast on Obama turning down the public financing system, and the media is—unfortunately—helping them along.

Most egregiously, the media is ignoring the fact that John McCain–during the primary–knowingly broke campaign finance laws. Here’s the short of it–McCain opted into public financing, tried to back out of public financing, was told by the (Republican-appointed) chairman of the FEC that he couldn’t back out, then broke the public financing spending limit with full knowledge that he was still bound by law to that limit. The DNC already filed a complaint with the FEC over this, and just today they filed a lawsuit over McCain’s apparent lawbreaking.

Second—and let’s be perfectly clear about this—Obama never pledged to take public financing. At no point during the campaign did he say he definitely would. John Wilson at The Huffington Post has a rundown of what Obama has said about his intentions regarding public financing–here’s part of it:

1. Even in February 2007, before Obama’s massive fundraising became evident, Obama’s staffers were explicit in stating that public financing in the general election was an “option” and not a commitment.

2. The March 2, 2007 New York Times reported Obama’s campaign saying that he would “aggressively pursue an agreement.”

So from the very beginning, the Obama campaign stated over and over again that public financing in general election would require an extensive agreement that went beyond merely having both parties accept the funding.

3. In response to a November 2007 questionnaire to the Midwest Democracy Network and Common Cause, Obama wrote: “My plan requires both major party candidates to agree on a fundraising truce, return excess money from donors, and stay within the public financing system for the general election….If I am the Democratic nominee, I will aggressively pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee to preserve a publicly financed general election.”

[Emphases Added]

Obama wanted to work out an agreement with the Republican nominee that would involve both candidates taking public financing as well as setting and following a variety of other spending and fundraising guidelines. Unfortunately, McCain wasn’t interested in pursuing an agreement, and thus Obama’s plan to implement strict guidelines fell apart.

Let’s look at this from another angle. Let’s say the United States comes up with a preliminary plan in regards to North Korea–In exchange for North Korea dismantling their nuclear program, we would provide them with foreign aid. Now, let’s say that North Korea has no interest in negotiating and no interest in holding up their end of the bargain–in fact, instead of ending their nuclear program, they step it up. In that case, would we be required to give them the aid we promised?

Of course not, because our action was based on the other side meeting certain conditions that they refused to even consider. Thus, we’re not obligated to give them what we pledged, since it was conditional.

In this case, McCain had no interest in following Obama’s proposed guidelines. And that’s fine—he has the right to run his campaign however he wants, as long as it’s inside the law. But Obama’s plan was conditional–if McCain doesn’t want to hold up his end, he can’t expect Obama to do the same.

I can understand why John McCain and the Republicans are making an issue out of this–in all likelihood, Obama is going to raise huge amounts of money from his people-powered campaign, while McCain’s big-donor-based fundraising has left him coming up short. But just because it’s understandable doesn’t mean it’s right, and it doesn’t erase the GOP’s hypocricy–their candidate freely broke campaign finance laws, and now they’re dishonestly hitting their opponent for ‘breaking’ a ‘promise’ he never actually made.