From NBC's Mark Murray and Chris Donovan
Not surprisingly, the McCain campaign quickly condemned Obama's decision to opt out of the public financing system for the general election.
"Today, Barack Obama has revealed himself to be just another typical politician who will do and say whatever is most expedient for Barack Obama," said communications director Jill Hazelbaker in a statement. "The true test of a candidate for president is whether he will stand on principle and keep his word to the American people. Barack Obama has failed that test today, and his reversal of his promise to participate in the public finance system undermines his call for a new type of politics."
In 2007, Obama filled out a questionnaire for the Midwest Democracy Network, in which he said he would participate in the public financing system for the general election. "In February 2007, I proposed a novel way to preserve the strength of the public financing system in the 2008 election," Obama wrote. "My plan requires both major party candidates to agree on a fundraising truce, return excess money from donors, and stay within the public financing system for the general election. My proposal followed announcements by some presidential candidates that they would forgo public financing so they could raise unlimited funds in the general election. The Federal Election Commission ruled the proposal legal, and Senator John McCain (R-AZ) has already pledged to accept this fundraising pledge."
"If I am the Democratic nominee," he added, "I will aggressively pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee to preserve a publicly financed general election."
At February's Democratic debate in Cleveland, the late Tim Russert asked Obama about whether Obama would renege on his pledge to accept public funds. Obama answered that he wanted to sit down with McCain after becoming the nominee.
"Tim, I am not yet the nominee. And what I have said is, when I am the nominee, if I am the nominee -- because we've still got a bunch of contests left, and Senator Clinton is a pretty tough opponent -- if I am the nominee, then I will sit down with John McCain and make sure that we have a system that is fair for both sides. Because, Tim, as you know, there are all sorts of ways of getting around these loopholes."
But according to Obama spokesman Bill Burton, the Illinois senator never sat down with McCain. "In the past couple of weeks, our campaign counsels met and it was immediately clear that McCain's campaign had no interest in the possibility of an agreement. When asked about the RNC's months of raising and spending for the general election, McCain's campaign could only offer its expectation that the Obama campaign would probably, sooner or later, catch up," Burton said in an email to First Read. "And shortly thereafter, Senator McCain signaled to the 527s that they were free to run wild, without objection."
Yet as Politico's Ben Smith points out, a well-funded GOP 527 has yet to emerge this presidential cycle.
*** UPDATE *** Per ABC, McCain's counsel Trevor Potter denies negotiating with Obama's counsel on this matter.