The Tennessean on Public Campaign Funding

July 06, 2008

"Obama says no to funds, but the system needs repair"

Obama is obviously willing to take the hits, and he obviously thinks he can afford to do so because of his enormous fund-raising strength. He had raked in more than $265 million by the end of April. With his current pace, he's off to the races on campaign donations and campaign spending. The Obama campaign's plans are already evident, with the Democrat spending money in states that might otherwise look like lost causes.

Obama is deflecting criticism by claiming the public-financing system is broken, that McCain had a head start because he had wrapped up his party's nomination while Obama was still battling Sen. Hillary Clinton and that outside groups, including "527" interest groups, will be able to spend all the money McCain will need anyway. There is truth to Obama's claims, but that does not erase the fact that the system for public funding needs shoring up. Obama is the first presidential candidate ever to refuse the public funds for the general election.

The funds come from the check-off box on individual tax returns asking if the filer wants to devote $3 to the presidential race. Many people are suspicious about that $3, although they shouldn't be. According to the nonpartisan Tax Foundation, about 12 percent of the people filing currently check off the box. In 1980, 29 percent of the people filing devoted the $3 to the fund. The system was created in 1976. President Bush became the first candidate to reject public funds in the primaries in 2000.

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