McCain tangles with Obama over campaign money
By Jason Szep
COLUMBUS, Ohio (Reuters) - Republican presidential front-runner John McCain accused Democrat Barack Obama on Wednesday of rolling back on a pledge to limit himself to public money in November's presidential election.
Obama is raising as much as $1 million day, generating a big money advantage over both McCain and Democratic rival Sen. Hillary Clinton in what is expected to be the costliest U.S. presidential election ever.
Obama, an Illinois senator, pledged in February last year to accept public financing and its accompanying spending limit of an estimated $85 million in the general election race if he wins the nomination and his Republican opponent agreed to limits too.
"I committed to public financing," McCain told a news conference. "He committed to public financing. It is not more complicated than that ... I'll keep my word. I want him to keep his."
As he has scored back-to-back wins in nominating contests, Obama has refused to recommit while moving steadily ahead of Clinton in the race to become the Democratic presidential nominee in the election.
Obama spokesman Bill Burton countered that McCain was in no position to raise the issue.
"John McCain is in no place to question anyone on pledges when he abandoned the latest campaign finance reform efforts in order to run for the Republican nomination and went back on his commitment to take public financing for the primary election this year," Burton said.
He was referring to McCain's refusal to back current reform legislation on Capitol Hill and to reports that the Arizona senator's cash-strapped campaign had borrowed $1 million by pledging to enter the primaries public financing system if his bid for the presidency faltered.
In his news conference, McCain, who has all but clinched the Republican presidential nomination, seized on a report in USA Today that quoted Obama as saying: "It would be presumptuous of me to say now that I'm locking myself into something when I don't even know if the other side is going to agree to it."
"That's Washington double speak," McCain said. "That's why the American people are so cynical about us in Washington."
The expected high cost of the White House campaign, which could easily surpass the nearly $300 million raised by President George W. Bush in 2004, has made it enticing to opt out of public financing and avoid its spending limits.
The Center for Responsive Politics, a watchdog group, estimates each nominee will need to raise at least $500 million to compete in November's election.
McCain's campaign was nearly derailed last summer by lackluster fundraising, but he has picked up the pace lately. According to a filing with the Federal Election Commission, McCain raised $11.7 million in January, more than he raised in the previous three months combined.
Obama raised $32 million and Clinton raised $14 million in January, their campaigns said. Both candidates must submit official fundraising reports to the FEC by midnight.
The public financing system was created in the 1970s after the Watergate scandal revealed the extent of campaign financing shenanigans and ended with the resignation of Republican President Richard Nixon.
McCain is the author of a prominent law that limits money in politics, angering some conservatives in his party who regard the law as a violation of free speech rights.
(Additional reporting by Andy Sullivan in Washington; Editing by Chris Wilson)