ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, I'm Robert Siegel.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block. An unprecedented step today from Senator Barack Obama. He will opt out of a system that would provide public financing for his general election campaign. He is the first major party candidate ever to do so. Obama thus turns down just over $84 million in public funds. But he does so knowing that he may be able to raise perhaps three times as much on his own. For their part, John McCain and the Republicans are accusing Obama of a flip-flop. But they also need to figure out how to be financially competitive in November. NPR's Don Gonyea reports.
DON GONYEA: Month after month, Barack Obama has shattered campaign fundraising records. Today he's brought in more than $260 million. And with enthusiasm building, new donors to tap, Hillary Clinton's supporters, for example, and with many of those who've given before eager to give more, the $84 million he'd be eligible for, if he's stuck with public financing, was starting to seen like small change. Which brings us to today's not-so-surprising Obama announcement, contained in a video e-mailed to supporters first thing this morning.
Senator BARACK OBAMA (Illinois, Democrat): 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.
GONYEA: This announcement does run counter to Obama's past statements that he wanted to stick with public financing. But he has also always said that he'd do so only if he could be sure that the influence of outside money, cash spent by groups not officially affiliated with any campaign, could be controlled. Ultimately he came to the conclusion that he had no choice.
Sen. OBAMA: John McCain's campaign and the Republican National Committee are fueled by contributions from Washington lobbyists and special interest PACs. 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.
GONYEA: Republicans responded by accusing Obama of hypocrisy. Senator McCain, campaigning at Iowa and inspecting damage from severe flooding, said Obama broke his word. McCain called it a question of trust, adding that this is a big deal; that was echoed by Charlie Black, a top McCain adviser.
CHARLIE BLACK (McCain Adviser): He talks about participating in a new kind of politics; just to raise as much money as you can is an old kind of politics.
GONYEA: On Capitol Hill, House Republican leader John Boehner had a similar approach.
Representative JOHN BOEHNER (Republican, Ohio): Barack Obama yesterday decided to forgo public financing to this campaign, breaking another promise that he's made. It's kind of a pattern amongst Democrats here in Congress to never keep their word.
GONYEA: But longtime GOP strategist Tony Fabrizio said the reality is that Obama now knows he'll have a huge spending advantage over McCain in the fall.
Mr. TONY FABRIZIO (GOP Strategist): He can spend unfettered. It is a very, very rare luxury.
GONYEA: That means he can cover any media market he wants in every single state without having to worry about cash flow. And for McCain, it will make it harder for him to keep pace in states he was hoping to compete in. Take New Jersey.
Mr. FABRIZIO: New Jersey itself, just for TV, could be a million and a half dollars a week. So if you want to expand the playing field and you're McCain and you want to play in Jersey, you got to set aside some real cash to play there.
GONYEA: So for McCain there will be very difficult choices, financial and strategic. Meanwhile just hours after announcing his decision about public funds, Obama unveiled his first national ad of the general election campaign.
(Soundbite of campaign advertisement)
Sen. OBAMA: America is a country of strong families and strong values. My life has been blessed by both. I was raised by a single mom and my grandparents. We didn't have much money. But they taught me values straight from the Kansas heartland where they grew up...
GONYEA: The ad is designed to reintroduce Obama to the American people, and perhaps at the same time to offset any of the negative fallout from the decision not to take public funds for his campaign.
Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington.
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