Wash. Post editorial ignored McCain's hedging on general election public financing

››› ››› MATT GERTZ

The Washington Post falsely suggested in an editorial that, in contrast with Sen. Barack Obama, Sen. John McCain has said definitively that he will accept public financing for the general election. In fact, in recent interviews with ABC News and USA Today, McCain did not give a definitive answer. According to USA Today, McCain "said he has not decided whether to accept about $85 million in public financing for the fall campaign."

In a June 9 editorial, The Washington Post falsely suggested that, in contrast with Sen. Barack Obama, Sen. John McCain has said definitively that he will accept public financing for the general election. The Post stated that "the question for Mr. Obama is whether he should take the public money and use it to run in the closing weeks, as Mr. McCain plans to do." In fact, when asked in a June 5 interview with ABC's World News host Charles Gibson whether he is "going to take" public financing, McCain did not give a definitive answer, saying: "[A]s you know, Senator Obama signed a piece of paper saying that he would take it if I would take it. I still want to take it. We haven't made a final decision if he doesn't take it, but I would hope that he would keep his word." Further, USA Today, in a June 6 article about that paper's interview with McCain, reported: "McCain, whose campaign nearly unraveled last summer from money woes, said he has not decided whether to accept about $85 million in public financing for the fall campaign."

In addition, the Post editorial stated that "[f]rom now until the convention, Mr. Obama -- and Mr. McCain for that matter -- can raise and spend 'primary' money in what everyone understands is a general election campaign." But Federal Election Commission chairman David Mason has taken the position that McCain cannot legally opt out of public financing during the primary season without FEC approval, meaning that when McCain "raise[s] and spend[s] 'primary' money" beyond the limits of the public financing system -- which he has already exceeded -- he could be breaking federal law.

As Media Matters for America previously noted, the Post asserted in a March 27 editorial that McCain is a "champion" of "campaign finance reform" -- despite having stated less than three weeks before, in a March 10 editorial, that McCain's decision to "derive[] some benefit from the matching funds system and then abandon[] it when that was to his advantage" was "not Mr. McCain's proudest moment as a reformer." In the March 27 editorial, which criticized Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress for making the FEC "incapable of functioning," the Post also claimed that McCain "has more than a passing interest in ensuring a functioning FEC," but did not mention McCain's current dispute with the FEC.

From McCain's June 5 ABC News interview:

GIBSON: Public financing ...

McCAIN: Yes.

GIBSON: ... are you going to take it?

McCAIN: Well, I certainly -- as you know, Senator Obama signed a piece of paper saying that he would take it if I would take it. I still want to take it. We haven't made a final decision if he doesn't take it, but I would hope that he would keep his word.

GIBSON: If he opts out, will you?

McCAIN: I don't know. We'd have to look and see how much money -- not only how much money we could raise, but how much time you spend away from actually campaigning. That's the problem. The benefit of taking the public financing is that then you don't have to worry about the fundraising.

And so, I haven't made a final decision. But, a little straight talk, we'd certainly lean towards it, but I would hope that Senator Obama would also keep his word.

From the Post's June 9 editorial, "Stop Raising Cash," which carried the subhead: "Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain should use the federal financing system for the fall campaign -- and reform it afterward":

It's been just a few days since he clinched the Democratic nomination, so Barack Obama deserves some time to fulfill his pledge to "aggressively pursue" an agreement with John McCain to stay within the public financing system for the general election. In case you worry that it would be hard to make do on the paltry $85 million available to each candidate, consider this: That money could be spent in only the 10 weeks between the nominating convention and Election Day. From now until the convention, Mr. Obama -- and Mr. McCain for that matter -- can raise and spend "primary" money in what everyone understands is a general election campaign. So the question for Mr. Obama is whether he should take the public money and use it to run in the closing weeks, as Mr. McCain plans to do, or whether he should become the first candidate since the post-Watergate reforms to run a presidential campaign funded entirely by private donations.

Mr. Obama's campaign now claims that his earlier promise was not to stay within the public financing system if his opponent agreed to do the same, as Mr. McCain has done, but merely to pursue such an agreement. Mr. Obama's zeal for this deal has understandably diminished as his fundraising capacity has soared; in the meantime, Mr. McCain has had a four-month head start on launching his general election campaign. The welcome fact that so many of Mr. Obama's donations come in small sums raised over the Internet reduces some of the problems associated with private money, such as the risk that presidential candidates would be too beholden to big donors and could be forced to devote too much time to raising money rather than speaking to voters. Donations of $200 or less accounted for nearly half of the $265 million that Mr. Obama has reported raising so far. Good, but that still leaves many other millions raised by big bundlers whose influence therefore remains significant. The less of that, the better.

Posted In
Elections, Campaign Finance
Network/Outlet
The Washington Post
Stories/Interests
John McCain, 2008 Elections
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