As expected, Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) announced today that he would not opt-in to the presidential partial public financing system. While his decision is regrettable, it is understandable due to the major shortcomings of the 30-year-old system and the failure of Congress to fix the badly broken system in recent years.
With his actions today, the senator now has an increased obligation to the American people that he will make overhauling our special interest-driven campaign finance apparatus for both Congress and the presidency a top priority if elected.
Sen. Obama has long been a supporter of Clean Elections, or full public financing of elections. From his days in the Illinois legislature to his current job in the Senate, Sen. Obama has consistently railed against the pay-to-play political system.
He is a co-sponsor of both the bipartisan presidential public financing legislation authored by Sens. Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Susan Collins (R-ME) and the bipartisan Fair Elections Now Act authored by Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Arlen Specter (R-PA), while Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has refused to sponsor either one.
Sen. Obama's support for public financing and his groundbreaking demonstration of the potential of small donor fundraising indicates that he is up to this challenge. However, Sen. Obama and his campaign must be clear in the weeks and months ahead about their commitment to ending a system that puts big money campaign contributors ahead of the needs and concerns of all Americans.
While declining public funds for this election is regrettable, a failure on the part of the next president to help lead the fight to win grassroots-empowering public financing for all federal offices would be unforgivable.