WASHINGTON (CNN) - Republican White House hopeful Rudy Giuliani has become the latest presidential candidate and the first in his party to announce plans to raise private funds for the 2008 general election, a spokeswoman tells CNN. But the former New York City mayor has left the door open to returning the money and accepting public funding down the road.
"We are raising private money for the primary and will begin raising private money for the general as allowed by the FEC ruling," said Maria Comella, a Giuliani spokeswoman, referring to a Thursday ruling by the Federal Election Commission allowing presidential candidates to begin tentatively raising private general election funds while preserving the option of accepting public funding at a later date.
The FEC issued its ruling in response to an inquiry by Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, who is also raising private funds for the general election, but has expressed interest in accepting public money if the eventual GOP nominee agrees to do the same.
"If Senator Obama is the nominee, he will aggressively pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee to preserve a publicly financed general election," said Bill Burton, an Obama spokesman.
Democrats Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards have all said they will not accept public "matching funds" during the primaries, and have all been raising private funds for the general election.
"We have not decided at this time whether we will accept public funding if we win the nomination," Comella said. "In the instance we do accept public money, we will return the private money raised for the general election in accordance with FEC rules."
Representatives for the Clinton and Edwards campaigns did not respond to inquiries as to whether their candidates would also be willing to return private general election funding if the Republican nominee agrees to do the same.
A spokeswoman for Democratic candidate Chris Dodd says the Connecticut senator will also not accept primary matching funds but has not made a decision about the general.
"We're more skeptical than Sen. Obama that it's an option any Republican nominee would choose," said Dodd spokeswoman Christy Setzer.
Republicans John McCain and Mitt Romney have not indicated their fundraising plans, but neither candidate has begun explicity raising general election funds on their website, nor has Giuliani.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - The Federal Election Commission voted unanimously Thursday to allow Sen. Barack Obama to raise private funds for the 2008 presidential general election while keeping open the option of returning that money should he later decide to accept public funding.
Obama and two of his main rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sen. Hillary Clinton and former Sen. John Edwards, all plan to fund their campaigns solely from private contributions rather than accepting up to $105 million in public funds for both the primary and general election campaigns. Another Democratic hopeful, Sen. Chris Dodd, will not accept public funding during the primaries, but has not made a decision regarding the general election.
If Obama wins his party's nomination, he has expressed interest in accepting public funding for the general election, totaling roughly $84 million, if his GOP counterpart agrees to do the same. Obama asked the FEC earlier this month whether he would be permitted to do so upon returning any privately raised funds.
"Senator Obama is pleased the FEC took this important step in preserving the public financing system," said Bill Burton, an Obama spokesman. "Should the Republican nominee opt back into the public financing system, we will truly have an opportunity to slow the steady increase of special interest money into the political system."
In its opinion, the FEC said that the Illinois Democrat could raise private funds for the general election and later return it in favor of public money as long as the private contributions are kept untouched in a separate account and that all private contributions are fully refunded should he ultimately decide to receive public funding.
Though the ruling was specifically tailored to address Obama's inquiry, the decision could be applied to any presidential candidate in a similar situation.
"I appreciate Sen. Obama's ingenuity," said Ellen Weintraub, one of three Democrats on the six-member bipartisan panel. "It's a good policy result."
The commissioners voted 5-0 in support of the measure. One Republican member was not in attendance.
Several presidential candidates have opted out of the primary public funding program over the years, including both President Bush and John Kerry in 2004. No major party nominee has ever refused public funding for the general election since the program began in 1976 as part of a package of post-Watergate campaign finance reforms.