Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, said Thursday that he'll forgo federal public financing for his general election campaign, reversing an earlier pledge to take public money if the Republican nominee did, too.
By doing so, Obama becomes the first major White House hopeful to reject public financing of a general election campaign. President Bush was the first candidate to reject public financing of primaries in 2000. But no candidate has ignored the general election funds since the law was approved in 1976.
In an e-mail and video to supporters Thursday, Obama maintained that he supports public financing. However, he said, the current public funding system for presidential campaigns is in disrepair.
By rejecting the public financing, Obama is turning down more than $84million that would be available. He pinned the blame on presumptive Republican nominee John McCain for pushing him to make the decision – ironic, since McCain gained national fame in 2000 as the champion of campaign finance reform.
On Thursday, McCain said he'll accept the public funds. He criticized his rival for backtracking, saying that Obama “said he would stick to his word. He didn't.” McCain added: “This election is about a lot of things. It's also about trust. It's about keeping your word.”
Obama would not relent.
“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 contributors from Washington lobbyists and special-interest PACs.”
Obama had a different view when he answered a Common Cause questionnaire last year.
“If you are nominated for president in 2008 and your major opponents agree to forgo private funding in the general election campaign, will you participate in the presidential public financing system?”
“Yes,” Obama said.
Obama has shattered presidential campaign fundraising records, raking in more than $265 million by the end of April. Of that, nearly $10 million was for the general election, reserved for spending after the party's convention in August. McCain had raised nearly $115 million by the end of May, eligible for spending before the convention.
McCain filed his May fundraising report Thursday with the Federal Election Commission, showing he raised $21 million during the month and started June with $31.5 million in cash on hand. McCain had announced those numbers earlier this month. He spent a total of $11.7 million in May.
But Obama's financial advantage is offset in part by the resources of the Republican National Committee, which has far more money in the bank than the Democratic National Committee. Both national parties can spend money on behalf of the candidates.
Labor union backs Obama
Also Thursday, Obama secured the endorsement of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, a union that had backed Hillary Clinton.
AFSCME is the largest union for workers in the public service sector, with 1.4 million members nationwide. The Associated Press contributed.