Posted by: Puma1 | June 25, 2008

[GUEST POST] The Last Straw: Obama’s Campaign Finance Dishonesty Is Unforgivable

by Zack R. from New York


I wasn’t particularly troubled with Senator Obama’s decision to decline public financing. What troubled me far more deeply was the ease with which he violated his promise and written pledge, and the horrible excuse that he provided for doing so.


Months ago, Barack Obama completed the Midwest Democracy Network’s presidential candidate questionnaire. The following was the second question that they asked of the 2008 candidates:

“If you are nominated for President in 2008 and your major opponents agree to forgo private funding in the general election campaign, will you participate in the presidential public financing system?”

Senator Obama checked “Yes” and added the following comment:

“I have been a long-time advocate of public financing of campaigns…If I am the Democratic nominee, I will aggressively pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee to preserve a publicly financed general election.”

Campaign finance reform has never been one of my top issues. It’s certainly a noble cause, and I will applaud the efforts of anyone who makes it their goal to rid the political system of the corruptive influence of moneyed interests and excessive spending. But the bottom line, in my opinion, is that the reform of campaign finance regulations does very little to positively impact the everyday lives of the American people

Accepting or rejecting public financing will not improve our healthcare system, it won’t make college more accessible and affordable, it won’t bring our troops home any faster or provide them with the benefits that they deserve, it won’t help anyone find a stable job with decent pay, it will not make our country safer, and it won’t help to end our dependence on foreign oil or ease the burden of rising fuel costs.

Personally, I believe that political candidates should be free to raise and spend as much money as they please during their quest to win election. So, in and of itself, I wasn’t particularly troubled with Senator Obama’s decision to decline public financing.

What troubled me far more deeply was the ease with which he violated his promise and written pledge, and the horrible excuse that he provided for doing so.

“We face opponents who’ve become masters at gaming this broken system. John McCain’s campaign and the Republican National Committee are fueled by contributions from Washington lobbyists and special interest PACs,” Obama said in a statement regarding his decision to forgo public financing.

Oh my God! Washington lobbyists and special interest PACs! How terrifying!

It might be terrifying—or at least troubling—if it was true. But according to, a nonpartisan, nonprofit service provided by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center, Senator Obama’s statement was “a large exaggeration and a lame excuse.” The truth is that contributions from PACs and lobbyists “make up less than 1.7 percent of McCain’s presidential campaign receipts and 1.1 percent of the RNC’s income,” again according to the Annenberg Public Policy Center.

Way back in October, when he was relentlessly attacking her character, Senator Obama accused Senator Clinton of “changing positions whenever it’s politically convenient.”

“I think what we need right now is honesty with the American people,” said Senator Obama.

A few months later, he went on to attack Clinton by saying that she was “willing to say anything to get a political or tactical advantage.”

It’s a clever line of attack, given that many people perceive Clinton as ruthless, excessively ambitious, and deceitful. But it’s also undeniably and outrageously hypocritical.

In 2004, Obama said he wouldn’t run for President in 2008:

“I am a believer in knowing what you are doing when you apply for a job, and I think that if I were to seriously consider running on a national ticket I would essentially have to start now, before having served a day in the Senate. Now there are some people that might be comfortable doing that, but I am not one of those people.”

But that changed when, according to Time Magazine, Senator Obama began “listening politely” to the “honchos” and the “assorted Democrats, especially some high-powered money people” who were encouraging him to run. Does this seem like an example of “honesty with the American people?”

Then, when the primary campaign’s focus shifted to Ohio, where trade deals are unpopular, Senator Obama began ruthlessly attacking NAFTA saying that it ships jobs overseas and that it “forces parents to compete with their teenagers to work for minimum wage at Wal-Mart.”

Obama, who professes to fiercely oppose the attacks and negativity of old-style politics, even sent out a mailer showing a padlocked factory gate with a giant “CLOSED” sign and the words “Hillary Clinton was not with Ohio when our jobs were on the line. Why should we be with her now?”

But while the Obama campaign was sending out these mailers, Austin Goolsbee, their Senior Economic Advisor, was calling the Canadian Consulate General’s office to tell them that Obama’s anti-NAFTA crusade shouldn’t worry them because it is nothing more than “campaign rhetoric” and is “not to be taken seriously,” according to CTV, who broke the story and stands by its accuracy. Also interesting is the fact that, now that he has locked up the nomination, Obama is telling Fortune Magazine that he no longer wants to “unilaterally reopen negotiations on NAFTA.” At this point in the interview, the interviewer reminds Obama that he called NAFTA “devastating” and “a big mistake” while campaigning in the Rust Belt. Obama’s response? “Sometimes during campaigns the rhetoric gets overheated and amplified.”

These are just a few examples of why Senator Obama’s forgoing of public financing is so disturbing: not because the public financing of campaigns is a crucial issue, but because his backtracking on this issue is part of a much larger pattern of telling voters one thing, then doing the opposite. It is yet another example of Senator Obama doing exactly what he spent over a year attacking the Clintons for: saying whatever is politically convenient at the time, with no regard for honesty or keeping promises.

And if Senator Obama is so quick to break his word—and his written and signed pledge—on public financing, then why should we trust him to deliver on any of his other campaign promises?

I’ve been trying rather hard to force myself to like Senator Obama, or, at the very least, to reach the point where I’ll be able to commit to voting for him. I am, after all, a Democrat, and Senator Obama, however much I may not like it, is the Democratic nominee for the presidency. But if broken promises, “overheated rhetoric,” and deceptive campaigning are the types of change that I’m supposed to believe in, then I—and countless others, as well—may end up entering the voting booth in November as non-believers.

We don’t care how many nice (and possibly disingenuous) things Senator Obama and his surrogates say about Senator Clinton. Hillary herself said it best: “Words are not action.” If Senator Obama wants to win our votes—or expects us to cast our votes for him because of the “D” beside his name—he needs to back up his words with some action. He needs to keep his promises, live up to the standards that he has set for himself, and prove that he is not just a narcissistic political opportunist.

He needs to show that he is a man of integrity who understands and cares about the state of the American people and is capable of actually delivering the help that he has promised. It’s something that has occurred less and less frequently in recent months, but on this particular issue, we are standing in agreement with a newspaper editorial board (the Washington Post, in this case):

“Mr. Obama had an opportunity here to demonstrate that he really is a different kind of politician, willing to put principles and the promises he has made above political calculation. He made a different choice, and anyone can understand why: He’s going to raise a ton of money…Fine. Politicians do what politicians need to do. But they ought to spare us the self-congratulatory back-patting while they’re doing it.”



  1. Hmmmmmm – Sept 21, 2008. Good stuff to read.

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