Barack Obama Opts out of Public Financing System

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Last Thursday, Democratic Party presidential candidate Barack Obama announced that his campaign was opting out of the federal public financing system for the general election system. While he will not receive the $84 million in federal funding that he would have otherwise received, he will instead be able to raise an unlimited amount of money. Obama’s campaign says that they were forced to make this decision because the system is broken and that the Republican Party has been able to manipulate the system to its advantage. Obama–who pledged to accept public funding last year–is the first major party candidate to opt out of the system.

On today’s episode of Democracy Now!, representatives from the Center for Responsive Politics and Americans for Campaign Reform discussed the decision. Nieither offered much criticism of Obama’s decision. Instead, they both talked about inherent flaws in the public financing system and the fact that $84 million is “not enough” money to run a presidential campaign.

Factcheck.org criticized Obama’s justification for rejecting public financing system, arguing that Obama justified his decision based on unwarranted claims about “527 groups (http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=527_committee)” and lobbyists. Moreover, Paul Street–a fierce critic of Obama from the left–points out that Obama has raised significantly more money than Republican John McCain–$265 million to McCain’s $95 million–the majority of which has come from the top 1% of Americans. Despite Obama’s claim that he is receiving money primarily from small donors, he has received $89 million in contributions of $1,000 or more. Similarly, the Center for Responsive Politics reports that Obama’s top contributors include corporations such as Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase, and Google.

A major issue that has been ignored in much of the reporting on Obama’s decision is the money that television and radio conglomerates make from election related advertisements. Around the country, media companies will receive millions of dollars in exchange for airing candidate ads. Is there another a way that this could be handled–perhaps a system for equal media access to the airwaves for all candidates via public interest requirements for broadcasters? Similarly, why is it that $84 million may not be enough to run a campaign? What does that say about who can afford to run for office and how the election system functions?

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