On Meet the Press, host Brian Williams allowed Sen. Lindsey Graham to crop an answer Sen. Barack Obama gave on a Midwest Democracy Network questionnaire about whether he would commit to public financing for the general election if his opponent did so. While Graham read the question and beginning of Obama's answer aloud, neither he nor Williams noted that Obama concluded his answer by saying he would "aggressively pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee to preserve a publicly financed general election," which the Obama campaign maintains he did before determining an agreement with the McCain campaign was unreachable.
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On the June 22 edition of NBC's Meet the Press, while discussing Sen. Barack Obama's decision to forgo public financing in the general election, host Brian Williams allowed Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) to crop an answer Sen. Barack Obama gave to a Midwest Democracy Network questionnaire about whether he would commit to public financing for the general election if his opponent did so. Earlier in the segment, Graham suggested that Obama's questionnaire answer constituted evidence that Obama "literally signed his name, 'I'll accept public financing,' and now, for whatever reason, he has broken his word." Graham stated: "Here's the question: 'If you are nominated for president in 2008 and your major opponents agree to forego private funding in the general election campaign, will you participate in the presidential public financing system?' Obama: 'Yes, I have been a longtime advocate for public financing of campaigns combined with free television and radio time as a way to reduce the influence of moneyed special interests,' November 2007. Wasn't worth the paper written on." Williams did not point out that Graham only quoted the beginning of Obama's answer, in which he concluded: "If I am the Democratic nominee, I will aggressively pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee to preserve a publicly financed general election."
The Obama campaign has asserted that representatives met with McCain advisers in an unsuccessful attempt to pursue an agreement on public financing for the election.
Obama's full response to the Midwest Democracy Network's question -- "If you are nominated for President in 2008 and your major opponents agree to forgo private funding in the general election campaign, will you participate in the presidential public financing system?" -- was as follows:
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. I introduced public financing legislation in the Illinois State Senate, and am the only 2008 candidate to have sponsored Senator Russ Feingold's (D-WI) bill to reform the presidential public financing system. In February 2007, I proposed a novel way to preserve the strength of the public financing system in the 2008 election. 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, I will aggressively pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee to preserve a publicly financed general election.
Additionally, Williams did not challenge Graham's misleading assertion that "[t]he public financing system that we all are touting here today as great has been abandoned by one candidate, and that wasn't John McCain. It's abandoned because of political expediency." Williams did not note that McCain himself wrote a letter to the Federal Election Commission in February saying that he was "withdrawing from participation in the federal primary-election funding program." McCain had previously applied to the FEC to qualify for public matching funds during the primary campaign in August 2007 and signed a loan agreement that could have forced him to remain in the race -- even if he had no chance of winning -- in order to be eligible for public matching funds to repay the loan. In response to McCain's letter, FEC Chairman David Mason took the position that McCain cannot legally opt out of public financing for the primary without FEC approval and asked the McCain campaign to expand upon its assertion that it "had not pledged the certification of Matching Payment funds 'as security for private financing.' "
Obama, Sen. Hillary Clinton and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) did not apply to take public matching funding for their 2008 primary campaigns. Additionally, as Media Matters for America has noted, in a June 5 ABC World News interview, McCain asserted that if Obama opted not to take public funding for the general election campaign, his campaign might do the same, and added that his campaign would make its decision on whether to take public financing based on "how much money we could raise" and "how much time you spend away from actually campaigning."
From the June 22 edition of NBC's Meet the Press:
GRAHAM: Senator McCain supported campaign finance reform at his detriment, with Senator Feingold, on our side. It did not go over well, but John did it anyway; he took a beating to try to change the campaign finance system. Senator Obama looked in cameras all over the country, literally signed his name, "I'll accept public financing," and now, for whatever reason, he has broken his word. And is it a 1.4 million donors that allows you to break your word? This is reinforcing everything that's wrong with politics. This is a game-changer in terms of the general election. This will not go unnoticed by the American people --
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE): But he did say --
GRAHAM: -- and will not be soon forgotten.
BIDEN: Obama did say, "I'm going to be a game-changer." He has been a game-changer. Big money is not influencing his campaign. Major interests are not influencing his campaign. People who are able to say, "Look, if you don't change your mind, I'm withdrawing; I can affect your decisions" -- they do not impact on Barack Obama. He's had this incredible appeal that no one ever anticipated.
GRAHAM: I would argue that MoveOn.org has played him like a fiddle on Iraq. He said, "We'll never vote to cut off funding. It was a mistake to go in Iraq, but they're there; they need the equipment." MoveOn.org laid down the law, and the next supplemental, "There should be timetables for withdrawal." Within three or four days he's changed his position on Iraq. He has played very much to the left. He has been told what to do by the hard left. There's a million times -- and we'll have plenty of time between now and November to talk about how he is captive to the left.
BIDEN: That is not true.
WILLIAMS: Back to your response on campaign fundraising. You say that he has done this "for whatever reason." We know the reason. It's because of the Internet appeal that his campaign found out halfway through.
GRAHAM: He's outraised John.
WILLIAMS: But had that been the McCain campaign, wouldn't it have been just as easy for them to -- discovering this potential gold mine on the Internet -- have made the same decision?
GRAHAM: Well, I think John has proven that he'll make decisions for the good of the country. John supported campaign finance reform and paid a heavy political price for it as a United States senator. The public financing system that we all are touting here today as great has been abandoned by one candidate, and that wasn't John McCain.
It's abandoned because of political expediency. He's a calculating politician. The bottom line about Barack Obama, whatever the position -- whether it be Iraq, campaign finance reform, public financing -- he's going to take a tack that allows him to win. He wants to win beyond anything else. Even more than keeping his word.
BIDEN: I'm not sure this is the place this debate should go, but if you talk about flip-flopping, you got John McCain all of a sudden deciding now we should drill in 600 million acres offshore that he adamantly opposed before. You got John McCain changing his position on Iraq; he started off talking about how they were going to be accepted and greeted with open arms and how we'd have a lot of money to pay -- oil to pay for this war, et cetera.
You know, you talk -- so I'm not sure that's the place. The bottom line in campaign financing, Barack Obama said major interests, lobbyists, major influence, corporate influence would not be involved in affecting his decisions as president because he would not accept funding for them. He has kept that commitment. Whether it's been in the context of the federal funding for presidential elections or not is an issue, but it's not about the essence of him keeping his promise.
And lastly, the idea that he's going to sit there and go through what John Kerry went through with these independent-financed organizations where the candidate running says, "Oh, no, I had nothing to do with those Swift Boaters. I really don't agree with them," but they're spending tens of millions of dollars against him -- something the Democrats have not had -- is not something is reasonable for him to say, I'm not ready to take that [unintelligible].
WILLIAMS: You don't think we'll see Swift Boaters on both sides this election cycle?
BIDEN: Well, I think we will, and that's part of the problem.
WILLIAMS: Senator Graham?
GRAHAM: Here's the question: "If you are nominated for president in 2008 and your major opponents agree to forego private funding in the general election campaign, will you participate in the presidential public financing system?" Obama: "Yes, I have been a longtime advocate for public financing of campaigns combined with free television and radio time as a way to reduce the influence of moneyed special interests," November 2007. Wasn't worth the paper written on.
BIDEN: Important point: "As a means by which to reduce the influence of big money." He has kept that commitment of reducing the influence of big money in this campaign, unlike -- unlike other campaigns.