Obama won’t accept public financing; Republicans make charge of hypocrisy

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) opened himself to charges of “hypocrisy” from the opposition even as his decision to forgo public financing gave him a major advantage in the general-election campaign.

Obama’s move could open the door to a fundraising effort that will dwarf all previous campaigns. Through May, Obama raised about $265 million, and his decision not to accept public funds will allow his maxed-out primary donors to give $2,300 again. In addition, experts expect that the campaign will receive an additional shot in the arm from donors who supported Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.).

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Fundraising records show that Obama has received about a quarter of his money from individuals giving $2,000 or more.

Fundraisers have said it is possible for the Democratic candidate to shatter his own records as the general election draws near.

“One hundred million dollars this June — it’s definitely within reach,” said Wade Randlett, who has raised more than $200,000 for Obama.

Shortly after Obama made the announcement Thursday morning, Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s (Ariz.) campaign said Obama “has revealed himself to be just another typical politician who will do and say whatever is most expedient for Barack Obama.” Early in the campaign, Obama had indicated that he would accept public funding.

“The true test of a candidate for president is whether he will stand on principle and keep his word to the American people,” Jill Hazelbaker, a McCain spokeswoman, said. “Barack Obama has failed that test today, and his reversal of his promise to participate in the public finance system undermines his call for a new type of politics.”

Hazelbaker added that the “decision will have far-reaching and extraordinary consequences that will weaken and undermine the public financing system.”

{mosimage}Obama, who called the current campaign finance system broken, made the announcement via a Web video that was sent out to his supporters and the media.

The Illinois senator, who has already shattered every fundraising record during the primary, said because Republicans accept money from lobbyists, and given the influence of outside 527 groups, he has decided not to accept the more than $84 million he would receive from public financing.

“The public financing of presidential elections, as it exists today, is broken, and we face opponents who have become masters at gaming this broken system,” Obama said, adding that this was an “easy decision” for him.

Obama will be the first presidential candidate to opt out of public financing for the general election since the system was put in place after the Watergate scandal.

In 2004, Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) pondered forgoing public funds but eventually decided not to. This put him at a disadvantage because he had to stretch his public money over a longer period of time. Both Kerry and President Bush opted out of public funds for the primary season, but the 2004 Republican convention was more than a month after the Democratic convention, which meant Bush had more time to use his primary funds.

Kerry later said that staying within the public funding system was the biggest mistake his campaign made, particularly in light of the repeated attacks from the 527 group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

The release of Obama’s Web video came just minutes before Washington reporters were scheduled to sit down with senior Obama advisers at a breakfast hosted by The Christian Science Monitor.

In an unusual move, those attending the breakfast were not aware of who the guests would be, told only that they would be senior advisers to the presumptive Democratic nominee.

The speakers turned out to be communications director Robert Gibbs and Obama’s general counsel, Bob Bauer.

Gibbs and Bauer pushed the rationale that Obama had to take the step because he expects 527 groups to spend “massive” amounts of money and because the Republican National Committee has so far significantly outraised the Democratic National Committee.

“We face opponents who have become quite adept at gaming and manipulating this broken system to their advantage,” Gibbs said.

At a debate in Cleveland during the Democratic nomination battle, Obama committed to meeting with McCain to discuss a way both candidates could make the public financing system work for them, as pointed out by one reporter at the breakfast.

Bauer said such a meeting never took place prior to the decision, but he added that he did meet with McCain’s general counsel, Trevor Potter, about two weeks ago.

Bauer said he surmised from that meeting that the McCain campaign was more interested in using the issue for political gain than holding any meaningful discussion.