Cash or Credibility

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Tired of the Barack Obama vs. John McCain battle over presidential public financing? Too bad! The Los Angeles Times wades in to the debate suggesting that if Obama and McCain end up opting out of the public financing program for the general election they'll only be hurting themselves.

Certainly for two candidates whose activities on behalf of campaign finance reform and ethics are central to their legislative records the implications of backing away from public financing are great. But does the fundraising (and hence, spending) boon of foregoing public financing outweigh the public image hit?


Legalities aside, it is embarrassing that the senator -- the coauthor of the 2002 McCain-Feingold law increasing government oversight of election campaigns -- has soured on public financing after taking advantage of the expectation that he would participate in the system.

[. . .]

But with his [Obama's] new front-runner status -- and facing the prospect of raising more private money than McCain in a general election -- Obama has begun to waver. Asked in the last Democratic debate if he was waffling on a promise to accept public financing, he dodged, saying that, if nominated, he wants to "sit down with John McCain and make sure that we have a system that is fair for both sides." That sounds like the "old politics" that Obama inveighs against.

Both candidates should get over their buyer's remorse. What they gain by abandoning public financing, they may lose in credibility.