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Obama Opts Out

In an almost universally anticipated move, Barack Obama today officially announced he would "opt out" of public financing for the general election, despite a statement early in 2007 that he intended to pursue a public financing agreement with the GOP candidate if he ran for president and won the Democratic nomination.

You can expect John McCain to leap on this announcement to suggest that Obama's flip-flopped on public financing, and is playing the game by the old Washington rules. As evidenced by the nature of his announcement, Obama will likely respond by saying (1) his 2007 statement was general and tentative, and he never once promised McCain he'd accept public financing; (2) public financing is a meaningless reform so long as non-regulated dollars--particularly those spent by 527s--still come from special interests; and (3) Obama's own internet-based and heavily small-dollar donor base represents a "parallel system" of public financing.

This last argument may actually work better with the public than you might initially think. Taxpayer-funded public financing of political campaigns has never been that popular, even though voters do seem to be worried about the influence of lobbyists. That's one reason regular folks don't typically share the aversion of "reformers" to self-funded candidates. So a candidate like Obama who has figured out a way to displace special-interest dollars with tons of small donations from plain citizens may well hit something of a sweet spot in terms of his positioning on campaign finance reform. We'll know soon enough.