WASHINGTON – Freed from a serious fundraising constraint, Barack Obama is positioned to mount a general election campaign on a scale the nation has never seen, fueled by hundreds of millions of dollars in private donations.
By rejecting public financing of his presidential bid on Thursday, Obama now faces no legal spending limits after he emerges from the Democratic convention in August and moves to the final stage of the race against the presumptive Republican nominee, John McCain.
Obama turned down $84.1 million in federal money in opting out of the federal system – the first major-party candidate to do so since it started in 1976. His campaign is betting it will collect far more than that from his donors.
The Illinois senator intends to use the extra money to redraw the electoral map. He will run television ads in traditionally Republican states where he hopes to compete, and deploy field operations in places Democrats are not supposed to win.
“It allows him to go broader and deeper than any prior candidate has been able to do from a financial basis,” said Don Sipple, a Republican political strategist.
McCain said Thursday he would accept public financing, meaning he will be restricted to $84.1 million in direct spending in the two months between the Republican convention and Election Day.
He accused Obama of breaking a promise to abide by the spending limit. “This is a big deal, a big deal,” McCain said. “He has completely reversed himself and gone back, not on his word to me, but the commitment he made to the American people.”
Though Obama’s decision made strategic sense, it left some good-government groups discouraged, predicting it would only fuel the money chase in politics. Complicating matters for Obama, he wrote in a campaign questionnaire last November that he was committed to public financing. Obama took pains to explain his position, e-mailing a video message to supporters. Obama said the public financing system is “broken” anyway. He suggested Republicans would exploit loopholes in the system by pouring money into outside entities that would subject him to “smears and attacks.”
Obama’s campaign said the decision to reject public funding was a tough one. It is rooted in the unmatched success Obama has enjoyed in raising money. Through the end of April, Obama has brought in more than $265 million, compared to less than $97 million for McCain, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.