Last winter, in the early stages of his run for the presidency, Barack Obama said he’d consider accepting public financing for the general election if his Republican opponent would do the same and agree to a set of ground rules, including limiting spending by party committees and outside 527 political advocacy groups.
That statement by Obama came before he assembled the most impressive fundraising juggernaut in modern political history, thanks in large part to an explosion of small donors giving over the internet. If Obama accepted public financing in the general, he’d have $85 million to spend between the end of his party’s convention in late August and November 4. Obama realized he could raise far more than that for the late stages of his campaign and do so in a generally honorable way. (John McCain, in turn, refused to limit spending by the RNC or referee 527 groups active on his behalf). So today his campaign announced it would opt out of public financing in the general. As the great economist John Maynard Keynes once said, when accused of inconsistency: "When the facts change, I change my mind — what do you do, sir?"
The facts changed for Obama. "It’s not an easy decision, and especially because I support a robust system of public financing of elections," Obama said in a message to supporters today. "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."
McCain predictably slammed Obama’s decision, in a calculated attempt to reaffirm his lapsed reformist credentials. Yet McCain’s the one who’s violating both the spirit–and perhaps the letter–of existing campaign-finance laws, as my colleague John Nichols noted, by opting in and then out of public financing when it was politically expedient.