Commentary on the US election has been dominated overnight by Barack Obama’s announcement that his campaign will forego public funding. Sounds high-minded, but in fact it means his campaign is unlocked from the built-in spending cap and can dig into their huge war chest to outspend McCain.

Obama refuses public funding. The decision to leave the creaky federal funding system which was set up after the Watergate scandal in the 1970s means the Obama campaign gives up around $80 million of public funding. But the Huffington Post reports Obama may be able to raise up to $500 million, outspending McCain’s campaign by 3-to-1 or even more. 

The Politico blog reports that the move has “irked” the Obama campaign’s reform allies, particularly since Obama had earlier said he’d stay in the public system. Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer said “We do not agree with Senator Obama’s rationale for opting out of the system. Sen. Obama knew the circumstances surrounding the presidential general election when he made his public pledge to use the system.”

Politico adds: “When Obama signaled he’d participate, it was unclear how much private cash he’d be able to raise. Since then, he has proven himself a historic fundraiser, pulling in $266 million for his presidential campaign, compared with the $93 million raised by McCain, a notoriously unenthusiastic fundraiser.”

The decision doesn’t affect the previous decision that the Obama campaign won’t accept lobbyist money, a pragmatic decision according to one Democrat lobbyist quoted in the National Journal. “It’s a point of distinction from the McCain campaign.”

Another article on Politico says the PR damage of the public funding decision is likely to be minimal since voters are more interested in Obama’s refusal to accept money from lobbyists. “The only people who care about it are a few professional activists and the press,” said Bob Shrum, who argued – unsuccessfully – in 2004 that his client John Kerry should have opted out of public financing. (Kerry said Thursday he would have won the race had he done so.)” 

John McCain on public funding – McCain has committed to the public funding system and the spending cap built into it, so the McCain camp has predictably hit out at the Obama decision. But Daily KOS points out that while McCain’s campaign has attacked Obama’s decision, back in 2004 McCain applauded Howard Dean’s campaign for grassroots fundraising via the internet:

“I think it’s wonderful that Howard Dean was able to use the Internet, $50, $75, $100 contributions. That’s what we want it to be all about. We want average citizens to contribute small amounts of money, and that’s a commitment to a campaign. So I’m for that. I think it’s a great thing. I think the Internet is going to change American politics for the better.”

McCain – no hoper or the big white threat? The polls may be neck and neck, but a survey of presidential scholars found Obama’s the favourite. An AOL story said “Historians belonging to both parties offered a litany of historical comparisons that give little hope to the Republican. Several saw Barack Obama’s prospects as the most promising for a Democrat since Roosevelt trounced Hoover in 1932.” 

In contrast, New Matilda yesterday ran a story saying “Don’t write the old man off just yet”, which says “the most significant conclusion from the primaries is that Barack Obama’s nomination could actually play into McCain’s hands“. 

Obama continues to court women – The Huffington Post quotes Obama as saying “John McCain, if he’s elected, is going to pick a Supreme Court that will roll back every gain women have made in the last 50 years.”

McCain’s green cred. The New Republic skewers McCain’s track record on the environment, in the light of his announcement that he’ll skip a vote on the LiebermanWarner climate-change bill. “Between April 12 and May 24 of last year, John McCain missed 46 consecutive votes in the U.S. Senate. In fact, McCain missed more than half of all Senate votes last year, enough to disqualify him from the infamous National Journal rankings that purported to find Barack Obama the most liberal senator…”

Obama’s VP  – An article on Real Clear Politics says Barack Obama lost his best vice-president option when Ohio governor Ted Strickland removed himself from consideration: “In truth, all the other possibilities being mentioned in the press have major problems.”

Viral videos. John McCain’s on the receiving end of the viral video phenomenon this week. Wonkette says the video (containing lots of very Not-Safe-For-Work language) was inspired by an incident a few years ago in which McCain allegedly called his wife Cindy “trollop” and another somewhat ruder word, in front of three journalists. The video deals with the angst of a newsroom trying to figure out how to report the incident without using “the word”.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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