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June 19, 2008

Obama’s Broken Promise on Public Funding of Elections Is Disappointment; Candidate Must Champion Fixing Public Funding System

Statement of Joan Claybrook, President of Public Citizen

Public Citizen is deeply disappointed by presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama’s decision this morning to opt out of the presidential public financing system for the general election. This decision would make Sen. Obama the first presidential candidate since the Watergate reforms to refuse public financing in the general election and fund his presidential bid instead with private money, which often comes with expectations of special access or favors. Sen. Obama has made this choice even though the presumptive Republican candidate, Sen. John McCain, said he would participate in the public funding system if his opponent did.

The benefits of reducing the role of special interests in selecting our lawmakers can be huge. Public financing of federal campaigns is at a critical crossroads this year. Important legislation to strengthen the presidential public financing system and to establish full public financing of congressional elections is now pending in Congress. Lawmakers are waiting to assess the fall-out of the November elections before acting.

Obama has been a champion of ethics reforms and campaign finance reform, including public funding of elections. If he is elected president, the nation will need his continuing leadership on these issues. To advance these efforts, his own campaign should be a model. Now that he has decided to opt out of public funding, it will be more difficult for him to show that he has not abandoned the concept and will champion clean elections and ensure that Congress passes much-needed reforms immediately.

The presidential public financing system falls woefully short in providing sufficient funds in the primary election, which is why the fix-it legislation is need. But the system provides a hefty $84.1 million grant to each of the general election nominees for the two-month-long general election campaign - plenty of money to run successfully, as three decades’ worth of elections have shown.

This presidential election is going to set all-time records for spending. Public Citizen can only hope that, despite Sen. Obama’s decision, he will remain disgusted with private interests buying our White House and that after the campaign, he will lead the charge for a system that removes special interest money from politics.

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