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Senator Barack Obama announced on Thursday that he would not participate in the public financing system for presidential campaigns. He argued that the system had collapsed, and would put him at a disadvantage running against Senator John McCain, his likely Republican opponent.

With his decision, Mr. Obama became the first candidate of a major party to decline public financing — and the spending limits that go with it — since the system was created in 1976, after the Watergate scandals.

Mr. Obama made his announcement in a video message sent to supporters and posted on the Internet. While it was not a surprise — his aides have been hinting that he would take this step for two months — it represented a turnabout from his strong earlier suggestion that he would join the system. Mr. McCain has been a champion of public financing of campaign throughout his career.

"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," he said. "John McCain’s campaign and the Republican National Committee are fueled by contributions from Washington lobbyists and special interest PACs. And 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."

Actually, Obama didn't reverse any previous stance. He previously said he would be willing to negotiate comprehensive limits that included 527s and other outside groups. However, McCain made it very clear that he had no interest in such limits on outside groups.

"In the past couple of weeks, our campaign counsels met and it was immediately clear that McCain's campaign had no interest in the possibility of an agreement," Burton said. "When asked about the RNC's months of raising and spending for the general election, McCain's campaign could only offer its expectation that the Obama campaign would probably, sooner or later, catch up. And shortly thereafter, Senator McCain signaled to the 527s that they were free to run wild, without objection."

And without comprehensive limits on all political players, it made little sense for Obama to tell his millions of small-dollar donors that they couldn't invest financially in his campaign.

Of course, Republicans will whine that Obama "broke his promise". They've got no other choice. McCain is getting crushed financially, and has little of the popular support that Obama enjoys. The GOP's best hope for financial parity was to cajole and embarrass Obama into opting into a system -- an act that would've been political malpractice for the Obama campaign. When you have millions of people eager to participate in the process, you don't muzzle them, especially not to make John McCain feel better. And as a result, Obama will be able to run a true 50-state campaign, engaging people in every corner of our country.

Of course, let's not forget that McCain opted in to the public finance system in the primary, then backed out after using his opt-in to secure a loan and get on the ballot in several states -- breaking not just his promise, but the law as well. Of course, hypocrisy never stopped Republicans, and this issue won't be any different. But let's not pretend that hypocrisy isn't there.

There's one other delicious irony at work -- don't you find it funny that McCain, the Republican, is embracing government funding for the election while Obama, the Democrat, would rather be self-reliant?

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Thu Jun 19, 2008 at 10:23 AM PDT.

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