The Washington Times - June 20, 2008, 10:30AM

Sen. Barack Obama got right back out on the campaign trail today following his major decision to decline public financing, and announced in a conversation changer that he’ll appear with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton next Friday following their joint meeting with donors on Thursday. Obama will talk to reporters this afternoon in Florida.



But the big news remains the money. Most Democrats are thrilled at the prospect Obama could use hundreds of millions to try to win the White House, but he will risk Republicans saying that he’s trying to buy the White House and the potential reminder that he outspent Clinton in several primary states where she beat him handily.


I have a story on today’s front page examining the risks — and rewards — of opting out:



Presumptive Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama — the “people-powered” presidential candidate who previously promised to publicly finance his campaign — on Thursday abandoned that pledge, becoming the first candidate since the funding system’s post-Watergate creation to decline the money.

The decision to forgo more than $84 million in public funds and instead raise massive sums from a 1.5-million-donor network was hailed by supporters as allowing his fundraising juggernaut — which went live with ads in 18 states Thursday — a clear advantage against presumed Republican nominee Sen. John McCain.

But Mr. McCain, other national Republicans and some campaign finance reformers excoriated the senator from Illinois as breaking trust with voters.

Mr. Obama is the first major party candidate to decline public financing of the general election campaign since 1974 when Congress created the system designed to reduce the influence of wealthy donors in politics. It’s a system Mr. Obama once said he “strongly” supported but now believes is “broken” and being manipulated by Republicans.

The senator revealed the long-anticipated move in a Web video to his massive list of supporters, urging donations and underscoring the reason he is opting out.

“If we don’t stand together, the broken system we have now, a system where special interests drown out the voices of the American people will continue to erode our politics and prevent the possibility of real change,” Mr. Obama said. “Join me, and declare your independence from this broken system and lets build the first general election campaign that’s truly funded by the American people.”



Read my full story at
news/2008/jun/20/obama-abandons- pledge-seeks-donor-funds/



The lawyer back-and-forth yesterday didn’t make the final version of my story, but it was an extraordinary day.


As the campaigns traded accusations over broken promises, their lawyers feuded as well over their recollections of a private meeting that Team Obama said helped them make the decision.


The lawyers — who said they are friends — offered competing versions of their talk from early June, which lasted about 45 minutes but also touched on a few other topics.


Obama counsel Bob Bauer told reporters at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast Thursday that after meeting with McCain counsel Trevor Potter, “It became clear to me, and I reported to the campaign, that there really wasn’t a basis for further discussion.


“It was very clear that there really wasn’t going to be any particular dialogue or move toward a creative solution that would put the campaigns in a position where they could credibly claim that they had agreed on a meaningful publicly financed general election campaign on fair, competitive terms,” Bauer said.


After the breakfast, Bauer was overheard calling someone on his cell phone: “Trevor? Hi, it’s Bob. Bob Bauer.”


Potter disputed Bauer’s recollection and told reporters: “There were no negotiations; there were no attempted negotiations; there was no offer from the Obama campaign to negotiate.”


He said he told Bauer during the meeting that McCain planned to stick to his pledge and hoped Obama would do the same.


Potter said, “We never heard anything” more after the early June meeting, and he was “completely shocked” to learn of the decision Thursday morning.


Bauer said he took notes during the meeting, and came away with the impression that Team McCain had “no interest in engaging seriously” and that arranging a McCain-Obama meeting would be pointless.


“I’m not clear why they think we were responsible for chasing them around the city,” he told reporters.


The Obama camp offered to split the cost of a conference call with the McCain camp so that Bauer (who once crashed a Clinton campaign conference call) could discuss the differing viewpoints with Potter and reporters. Team McCain declined.


Republicans predictably painted Obama as a flip-flopper who wants to buy the election, but the Democrat penned a USA Today op-ed vigorously defending his decision, arguing:


What’s more, Sen. McCain has, in fact, been running a privately financed general election campaign since February, using private money raised during the primary to attack me and target battleground states. By the time he accepts his party’s nomination, Sen. McCain will have run a privately funded general election campaign for seven months.



Here’s some video with the genesis of the decision, provided by Republicans who might enjoy using it in an attack ad:



June 2006:



February 2008:



April 2008:






Christina Bellantoni, national political reporter,
The Washington Times