Hillary Rodham Clinton recently jumped on Barack Obama for what her aides called "a pretty big flip-flop" as Obama began to backpedal from a pledge to participate in the federal public campaign financing program in the general election. The program would limit each presidential nominee's spending to $85 million in taxpayer-donated dollars between the August conventions and the November election. Both Clinton and Obama opted out of the public financing system during the primary campaign. Now that Obama is breaking fundraising records as he draws about $1 million a day, he apparently doesn't see private campaign cash to be as corrupting as before. Well, Obama did promise change. The funny part is that Clinton's position on public financing has evolved, too. She used to say she would not participate in public financing in the general election -- now campaign aides say she might. Not that it would matter. If history is any guide, then Team Clinton II would waste little time putting together a price list for donors interesting in buying -- er, spending -- quality time in the White House.
As for John McCain, he, too, has begun attacking Obama for backtracking on his public financing pledge. Oddly, McCain, a self-styled reformer, now hints that he'll stick with public financing -- if Obama does. "If Sen. Obama goes back on his commitment to the American people, then obviously we have to rethink our position," McCain told reporters. Someone on McCain's staff might want to tell him he is too old to cry, "He started it first."
Worse, at this very moment McCain is trying to wiggle out of the public financing system in the primary, which caps spending at $54 million. McCain signed an agreement to use public financing. But he never took the money and instead used it as collateral on an unused line of credit. Federal Election Commission Chairman David Mason sent McCain a letter last week telling McCain he can't withdraw from the public financing system. McCain's lawyers are challenging Mason.
For his part, Obama claims he will accept public financing if McCain pledges to curb independent political groups (known as 527s).That's disingenuous, too. Obama, a lawyer, must know that election law expressly prohibits McCain aides from telling 527s what to do and not do.