(CNN) - John McCain's campaign is seizing on Barack Obama’s comments Tuesday night deriding the public financing system for presidential campaigns. A senior McCain adviser calls it the latest signal that the Democratic candidate may abandon a promise to participate in the system, should he become the Democratic nominee.
“It seems he is taking another step down the path of breaking his promise to the American people,” said McCain adviser Steve Schmidt. “Obama is running an increasingly negative campaign built on a foundation of untruthful attacks and broken promises. That is the type of politics Americans are sick of and John McCain is going to change.”
At a fundraiser Tuesday night, Obama told donors that “we have created a parallel public financing system where the American people decide if they want to support a campaign they can get on the Internet and finance it, and they will have as much access and influence over the course and direction of our campaign that has traditionally reserved for the wealthy and the powerful."
Participating in the public financing system limits a candidate’s ability to spend campaign cash. McCain has promised to accept public funding only if his opponent does the same.
For the McCain campaign, criticizing Obama on this issue serves two purposes.
First, it serves to undermine Obama’s reformer message, which is the same theme McCain is running on, and gives them a means of painting the Illinois senator as a typical, untrustworthy politician.
“Barack Obama publicly promised the American people that he would accept public financing if he is the nominee of his Party," said McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds. "Launching his campaign by going back on a promise to voters would be dishonest, and exposes his ‘politics of hope’ as empty rhetoric out of a typical politician.”
On a more practical level, it’s in McCain’s interest to push Obama to take public financing because the presumptive GOP nominee raises nowhere near as much money as Obama. Last month was one of McCain’s best in terms of fundraising - he pulled in $15 million. But over the course of the year to date, he has raised less than the $40 million that Obama did in the last month alone.
Last week, McCain's campaign returned $3 million in funds received from major donors towards general election expenses, and encouraged them to send the money to the Republican National Committee's Victory Fund instead - one of the strongest signals to date he intends to participate in the public financing system, which prohibits him from receiving those donations from individuals who have already contributed the $2,300 primary season maximum.
McCain first went after Obama on this issue in February, after Obama wrote an op-ed in USA Today proposing a "meaningful agreement in good faith that results in real spending limits.”
Then, McCain called that “Washington double-speak” and challenged the Democrat to keep what he calls a promise to participate in the public financing system. The Obama campaign responded by accusing McCain of abandoning new efforts at campaign finance reform, a McCain signature issue.