Monday, February 18, 2008

MILWAUKEE — Sen. Barack Obama’s critics are accusing him of breaking a promise to take public financing.

Mr. Obama of Illinois has proven fundraising prowess, and his millions helped him win dozens of primary contests this year and assume the front-runner mantle this month. But Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign and Sen. John McCain, the likely Republican nominee, slammed him yesterday as backtracking on a year-old campaign-finance pledge.

Meanwhile, a powerful storm forced the candidates to scrap campaign plans in this state yesterday. Mr. Obama used the unexpected break to travel secretly to North Carolina to meet with former Sen. John Edwards, who ended his presidential bid last month and is weighing an endorsement of either Democrat.

Campaign aides said Mr. Obama met Mr. Edwards and his wife, Elizabeth, in their Chapel Hill home to talk about the former candidate’s signature issue of poverty. Mr. Obama sneaked away from Chicago yesterday morning without alerting his traveling press corps.

WTVD in Raleigh captured a photo of Mr. Obama and Mr. Edwards hugging from “Chopper 11.” Mrs. Clinton already met with Mr. Edwards, also in secret, and both candidates have been hoping for his backing.

Earlier yesterday, Mr. Obama took heat from both parties over whether he would accept public campaign funding and the spending restrictions that entails should he become the Democratic nominee.

Last year, Mr. Obama asked the Federal Election Commission if it would be possible to use private fundraising for the primary and then public financing in the general election should his Republican rival agree to do the same. The FEC agreed it was a legal option, and Mr. Obama said then he would “aggressively pursue” such an agreement, but the Obama campaign now won’t commit to pursuing public funds.

On a Democratic questionnaire last fall, Mr. Obama called himself a “longtime advocate for public financing of campaigns combined with free television and radio time as a way to reduce the influence of moneyed special interests.”

He also outlined his plan to require “both major party candidates to agree on a fundraising truce, return excess money from donors, and stay within the public financing system for the general election.”

Mr. McCain said a year ago he would accept public financing should the Democratic nominee do the same and this week told reporters Mr. Obama should “keep his word.”

Clinton spokesman Phil Singer predicted should Mr. Obama be the nominee, the switch “is going to have consequences in a general election” and “provides the Republican Party with a significant piece of ammunition.”

Obama aides argue critics are jumping the gun since their boss hasn’t secured the nomination, and spokesman Bill Burton said the campaign will address the issue “if and when Obama is the nominee.”

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