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Obama Forgoes Public Funds

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Obama Forgoes Public Funds in First for Major Candidate
Adam Nagourney and Jeff Zeleny
The New York Times

Washington - Senator Barack Obama announced 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 spend-
ing 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." 

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Mr. Obama had pledged to meet with Mr. McCain following 
the primaries to attempt to work out an agreement on 
financing. That meeting never took place, aides to 
Mr. Obama said, because a meeting between lawyers for 
the two sides was not fruitful. "It became clear to me 
that there wasn't any basis for future discussion," 
said Robert Bauer, the general counsel for Mr. Obama's 

Mr. McCain seized on Mr. Obama's decision to question his 

"Senator Obama's reversal on public financing is one of 
a number of reversals that he has taken," Mr. McCain said 
in Columbus Junction, Iowa, where he had been touring the 
floods. "I'm especially disturbed by this decision of 
Senator Obama's because he signed his name on a piece of 
paper, signed his name." 

"This election is about a lot of things but it's also about 
trust," he said. "It's also about whether you can take 
people's word." 

Charlie Black, a senior adviser to Mr. McCain, charged 
that Mr. Obama had "broken his word." 

In fact, Mr. Obama stopped short of making a flat promise 
to participate in the public financing system. Asked in a 
questionnaire whether he would take part if his opponents 
did the same, Mr. Obama wrote yes. But he added, "If I am 
the Democratic nominee, I will aggressively pursue an 
agreement with the Republican nominee to preserve a 
publicly financed general election." 

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Mr. Obama has since said that he would only agree to such 
a deal if Mr. McCain agreed to curtail spending by the 
Republican Party and independent groups. 

Mr. Obama's campaign has been notable this year for its 
success in raising money; he outstripped his Democratic 
opponents in the primary and seemed well-positioned to 
out-raise Mr. McCain. 

Under the federal presidential financing system, a 
candidate this year would be given $84.1 million from 
the Treasury to finance a general election campaign. 
In exchange, the candidate is barred from accepting 
private donations, or from spending more than the $84.1 

All indications this year are that Mr. Obama will have 
no problem raising more than that amount for the general 
election; he raised $95 million in February and March 
alone, most of it, as his aides noted Thursday, in small 
contributions raised on the Internet. More than 90 percent 
of the campaign's contributions were for $100 or less, 
said Robert Gibbs, the communications director to Mr. Obama.

That said, the Republican National Committee - which does 
not operate under the same contribution limits as the 
candidates - has proved to be much more successful than 
the Democratic National Committee in raising funds. 

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Mr. Black said that the McCain campaign's fund-raising 
was improving, and that its efforts to raise money in 
conjunction with the Republican National Committee and 
several state parties working to elect Mr. McCain - which 
allows donors to contribute far more than the $2,300 limit 
that they can give to presidential campaigns alone - was 
yielding results. 

"I assume he's going to outspend us," Mr. Black said of 
Mr. Obama, but he added that the money advantage would 
prove to be less important than it appeared: "We don't 
have to spend as much as he does to win." he said. 

For his part, Mr. Obama portrayed the decision to opt out 
of public financing as one that would limit the influence 
of special interests in the campaign. 

"Instead of forcing us to rely on millions from Washington 
lobbyists and special interest PACs, you've fueled this 
campaign with donations of $5, $10, $20, whatever you can 
afford," he told his supporters in the video message. 
"And because you did, we've built a grassroots movement 
of over 1.5 million Americans." 


Michael Cooper contributed reporting from Chicago and 

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