Obama Rejects Public Funds for Fall Campaign

Sen. Barack Obama is opting out of the public campaign finance system. The Obama campaign will forego more than $80 million in public funds, but will also avoid spending limits on money raised privately.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Here's another first for Senator Barack Obama: He is opting out of the public financing system, and that makes him the first candidate to decline public funds in a general election campaign since that money was offered to presidential candidates for the first time more than 30 years ago. Word came this morning in a video message posted on Obama's campaign Web site.

(Soundbite of Web video)

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Democratic Presidential Candidate): It's not an easy decision, especially because I support a robust system of public financing of elections. But the public financing of presidential elections as it exists today is broken, and we face opponents who've become masters of gaming this broken system.

INSKEEP: Today's decision means Obama will forgo more than $80 million in public funds. It's presumed that he can raise much more on his own. NPR's Don Gonyea is following this story and joins us now. And Don, why would Obama do this?

DON GONYEA: The simple answer is that he does not want to come up short of resources that he feels he need down the road to win this thing. And let's be very clear about it, he has shown a tremendous ability to raise cash - one and a half million donors, a lot of them first time contributors, lots of small donations. It's all added up to huge pile of money, and it's from people he can go back to. He's raised some 265 million so far. Again, the limits for the general - which, you know, the clock starts ticking on that after he is officially the nominee coming out of the convention - you know, is in that 80-plus million dollar range. He's going to be able to raise a lot more than that.

INSKEEP: Didn't Obama say, though, that he would take public financing and effectively limit his spending if John McCain, if the eventual Republican nominee agreed to do so, which, in fact, John McCain has done?

GONYEA: Yes, yes. Absolutely. But, again, he says it's about the resources, and it's not just about John McCain and whatever money the official John McCain campaign will be spending during the fall. Give a listen to Obama. This is also from that video announcement he sent to supporters this morning.

(Soundbite of Web video)

Sen. OBAMA: John McCain's campaign and the Republican National Committee are fueled by contributions from Washington lobbyists and special interest pacts. And we've already seen that he's not going to stop the smears and attacks from his allies wanting so-called 527 groups who will spend millions and millions of dollars in unlimited donations.

GONYEA: And, again, Steve, those 527 groups he refers to, that's one of those, you know, numbers to classify a certain kind of player in the political scene. Those are groups that are not affiliated with a campaign, but tend to weigh in against a particular candidate, running attack ads - the Swift Boat ads, people my recall, against John Kerry, from four years ago.

INSKEEP: We're talking with NPR's Don Gonyea about Senator Barack Obama's decision to opt out of the public financing system for the general election. This has drawn a swift statement, Don, from John McCain, who sends out this statement saying Barack Obama has revealed himself to be just another typical politician. And McCain goes on to suggest that he went back on his word. Is McCain now going to feel free to raise his own money rather than taking public money?

GONYEA: Well, he's certainly free to do that. And he may have to do it, but it kind of plays up the strategic advantage that the Obama campaign thinks they have. If McCain is going to raise money - and he could raise more than what the public financing allows - it does mean he's going to have to spend a lot of time at fund raisers in the fall, bringing money in instead of going to actual events. You don't find voters at fundraisers. You find money at fundraisers, and he's going to want to be talking to voters.

INSKEEP: And it's not too late for McCain to opt out?

GONYEA: No. It's not too late.

INSKEEP: Okay. Don, thanks very much.

GONYEA: All right. Take care.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Don Gonyea.

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