Big Bucks Barack

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 20, 2008; 10:28 AM

Liberals have been championing campaign finance reform since Richard Nixon's bagmen were walking around with suitcases of cash.

It was Jimmy Carter, after his post-Watergate, I'll-never-lie-to-you campaign, who pushed through the first law attempting to curtail the role of big money in politics.

So Barack Obama's decision yesterday to become the first presidential candidate of the modern era to opt out of public financing flies in the face of that tradition. It also happens to contradict his own past assurances. And it poses a real test for the media.

First, Obama's move may be the most important of the campaign--even bigger than the veep choice--because it will give him an enormous financial advantage over John McCain, which, of course, is why he's doing it. That was the choice he faced: keep his word, or use his fundraising machine to blow McCain away on the financial front.

Second, the record makes clear that Obama is doing a 180 on his previous position. As Lynn Sweet notes in her Chicago Sun-Times blog, when the late Tim Russert told Obama in a Feb. 27 debate that "you may break your word" on public financing, Obama said that "at the point where I'm the nominee, at the point where it's appropriate, I will sit down with John McCain and make sure that we have a system that works for everybody."

The question: Are the media going to call Obama on the reversal? Will there be hand-wringing pieces about the corrupting role of money in politics? Or will the story just be covered as the two sides trading charges?

You will not be shocked to hear that while most conservative bloggers are ripping Obama for hypocrisy, most liberal bloggers are defending the move. Had President Bush done this in 2004, there would have been at least five postings up on the Huffington Post accusing him of trying to buy the election.

NYT's lead graf: "He argued that the system had collapsed, and would put him at a disadvantage running against Senator John McCain, his likely Republican opponent." Fourth graf: It "represented a turnaround."

LAT's lead: "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." Seventh graf: McCain "accused Obama of breaking a promise."

USA Today's lead: "Democrat Barack Obama's decision to walk away from more than $84 million in taxpayer money for the general election signals trouble for a system created to limit the influence of special interests, experts say." Second graf: "set aside an early promise."

Set aside? I have some promises I'd like to set aside.

Politico's lead: "In a widely expected move that will give Democrat Barack Obama a huge cash advantage over Republican John McCain, Obama announced Thursday morning that he will be the first modern presidential candidate to decline public financing in a general election." Second graf: "represents a break."

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