Obama Opts Out of Public Campaign Funds Sen. Barack Obama said Thursday he will not dip into the federal public financing system in the general election, backing away from an earlier commitment to take the money if rival presidential candidate Sen. John McCain did the same.
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Obama Opts Out of Public Campaign Funds

Don Gonyea and Steve Inskeep Discuss Obama's Decision

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Democratic Sen. Barack Obama said Thursday he will forgo public money to help finance his general election campaign, a move that frees him to raise unlimited funds from private and corporate donors.

Obama, who has raked in more than $265 million so far, shattering presidential campaign fundraising records, will forgo some $84 million that would have been available to him in the general election.

But the move frees the Illinois senator and presumptive Democratic nominee from spending limits imposed by the Presidential Election Campaign Fund Act, which is paid for with the $3 taxpayer checkoffs on federal tax returns.

"It's not an easy decision, and especially because I support a robust system of public financing of elections," Obama said in a video message e-mailed to supporters. "But the public financing of presidential elections as it exists today is broken, and we face opponents who've become masters at gaming this broken system."

Earlier, Obama had said he would participate in public financing if his Republican rival, Arizona Sen. John McCain, did the same.

On Thursday, however, Obama said it was evident that McCain and the Republican National Committee were raising large contributions from Washington lobbyists and special interest political action committees.

"We've already seen that he's not going to stop the smears and attacks from his allies running so-called 527 groups, who will spend millions and millions of dollars in unlimited donations," Obama said in a statement.

A 527 group is a tax-exempt organization that is not regulated by the Federal Election Commission.

Obama campaign lawyer Robert Bauer said he met with McCain lawyers to discuss how the two campaigns could operate in the public financing system, but that the two sides could not come to an agreement.

McCain's campaign was quick to accuse Obama of going back on his promise to voters.

"He talks about participating in a new kind of politics," senior McCain adviser Charlie Black said Thursday. "Just to raise as much money as you can is an old kind of politics."

Black noted that Obama is the first presidential candidate since Watergate to make that decision.