Monday, June 23, 2008

Hypocrisy: Thy Name is McCain

Last week Senator Obama opted out of public financing for his general election campaign, the first presidential candidate to do so in over 30 years. This decision was counter to a response he made last year in a questionnaire where he said if nominated he would negotiate with his opponent to create a fair, publicly-financed campaign. His decision to back away from that stance was controversial and opened him up to criticism of being a "typical politician," saying one thing and doing another; not keeping his promises, etc.

In defending Obama, let me just say that he's not, as many Conservatives implied, "going back on his promise" to accept public funding. There was never a promise or commitment made; just statements in favor of public financing. That said, I'm sure he expected that Republicans would pounce all over this, and even though a promise hasn't been broken, it is a dramatic change of direction.

Will this controversy pass? Likely for now it will, but it's sure to be brought back once campaigning begins and debates are held after the party conventions. Is this announcement worth some air time and column inches? Certainly. But what's noticeable to me is the hypocrisy of McCain and the press' refusal to cover it. (Note that I said "noticeable," not "surprising.")

McCain, of course, was quick to criticize Obama's decision, and he used some harsh words in his statements calling Obama's trustworthiness into question. "This election is about a lot of things but it's also about trust. It's also about whether you can take people's word... [T]his is a big deal, a big deal. He has completely reversed himself and gone back, not on his word to me, but the commitment he made to the American people." However, Senator McCain is himself involved in a more serious campaign financing issue -- one that includes breaking the law and going back on a legally binding commitment.

Early in the Republican Primary, Senator McCain's campaign was adrift, and many were counting him out. Money wasn't coming in, so he committed to using public financing for his Primary bid. He did not simply say he favored this in an interview; he signed on the dotted line. Senator McCain even went so far as to use his commitment to public financing as collateral on a loan he took out to fund his campaign.

A few months later, after his campaign brought itself back to life and it became clear he was to be the presumptive Republican nominee, McCain decided that he no longer wished to be constrained by the limits of public financing and declared that he was self-financing. Federal Election Commission chairman David Mason sent McCain a letter saying that he cannot simply opt out of the public financing system without FEC approval -- approval which he has not been granted. McCain's response to that letter was... to not respond.

To date, McCain has continued to raise and spend money in excess of the legal limits placed upon him by his commitment to receive public funding, and he is breaking the law every day he continues to do so. In addition, since McCain surely understands the legality of his earlier decision to accept public funding, his willful disregard for that agreement puts him in serious legal jeopardy. The Washington Post stated, "Knowingly violating the spending limit is a criminal offense that could put McCain at risk of stiff fines and up to five years in prison."

How many articles have you read about Obama's decision to forgo public financing? And how many mentioned McCain's own public financing woes? I'm willing to bet none of them. But rather than turn this post into a criticism of the press (which they deserve), I'd like to keep the focus on McCain's flip-flopping -- and law breaking.

If Senator McCain is willing to knowingly break the law to achieve his fundraising goals, his values and ethics should be called into question. Unlike Obama, who went back on stated plans but broke no promises (or laws), McCain's judgment here is seriously questionable.

To borrow some of McCain's own words, this election is about a lot of things, but it's also about trust and about whether or not you can take people's word. This is a big deal. Senator McCain has completely reversed himself and gone back on the commitment he made to the Federal Election Commission as well as the American people.