October 15th, 2008
10:00 AM ET
14 years ago

Fact Check: Did Obama say he would accept public financing if McCain did?

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/10/15/art.obama.handout.jpg caption="Did Obama say he would accept public financing if McCain did?."]
The Statement
In an interview with CNN's Dana Bash on Monday, Oct. 13, Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain criticized Democratic rival Sen. Barack Obama's actions regarding campaign finances. "Senator Obama didn't tell the truth to the American people when he signed a piece of paper ... that said he
would take public financing if I did," McCain said. "That's his signature on a piece of paper. He wasn't telling the American people the truth when he told them that he would - quote - 'sit down with John McCain' - looked right in the camera during his debates with Senator Clinton - he would sit down and negotiate with John McCain before he made a decision on public financing."

Get the facts!

The Facts
Public financing refers to the roughly $85 million in public money that candidates are eligible to receive if they choose to accept it. The money comes from taxpayers who check a $3 donation box on their tax returns. Any candidate who accepts the money is not allowed to raise or accept additional funds for the general election. The Obama campaign broke fundraising records during the primary season and consequently was predicting a similar windfall in the general election.

McCain refers to a questionnaire from the Midwest Democracy Network, a political-reform advocacy group, which asked presidential candidates whether - if they became their party's nominee and their opponent agreed - they would forgo private funding in the general election campaign. Election reform
advocates like that idea because it puts candidates on equal financial footing, curbing the influence campaign donors have on candidates.

In an e-mailed response on Nov., 17, 2007, Obama wrote: "Yes: I have been a long-time advocate for public financing of campaigns combined with free television and radio time as a way to reduce the influence of moneyed special interests."

It is perhaps worth noting that the questionnaire was submitted to all major presidential candidates and only former Sen. John Edwards and Obama filled it out, according to the group. Obama did not sign anything - his typed answers were e-mailed. But on June 19, he announced he would not be accepting public financing, allowing him to raise unlimited funds.

In a Feb. 26 debate, Obama told NBC's Tim Russert he would "sit down with John McCain" to discuss the issue. Obama and McCain never personally met to negotiate a decision on public financing. But Obama campaign counsel Bob Bauer did meet with McCain campaign counsel Trevor Potter. No agreement was reached.

Both campaigns have blamed the other for a face-to-face meeting having never taken place between the candidates on the matter.

The Verdict: Mostly true. Obama did indicate he would accept public financing if his opponent did the same. But he did not sign anything, as McCain states. Obama did not sit down with McCain before Obama's decision on public financing, but members of both campaigns met with each other on the issue.

Filed under: Candidate Barack Obama • Fact Check • John McCain
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