Bloomberg reported attacks by Sen. John McCain and a Republican strategist on Sen. Barack Obama on the issue of public financing in the general election. But while the headline asserted that Obama “Risks 'Pristine' Image” over public financing, and the article said that “Obama and McCain are vying to be seen as reformers,” Bloomberg did not report other facts that detract from McCain's reported efforts “to be seen as” a “reformer.”
In a June 13 Bloomberg article, headlined "Obama Risks 'Pristine' Image in Question of Public Financing," reporters Kristin Jensen and Jonathan D. Salant uncritically reported attacks by Sen. John McCain and Republican strategist Kevin Madden on Sen. Barack Obama on the issue of public financing for the general election campaign. Jensen and Salant reported that “Obama pledged in March 2007 to pursue an agreement with the Republicans to participate in the public-financing system” and quoted Republican strategist Kevin Madden's accusation that "[b]acking out would have 'all the elements of hypocrisy and expediency that could hurt this pristine brand that [Obama] tries to promote.' "
Jensen and Salant also reported that McCain “has signaled he will use the public-financing issue against Obama,” and quoted McCain saying of Obama's position on campaign financing: “That's Washington double-speak. ... That's not transparency, nor is it keeping one's word to the American people.” But while the headline asserted that Obama “Risks 'Pristine' Image” over public financing, and Jensen and Salant wrote that “Obama and McCain are vying to be seen as reformers,” they did not report other facts that detract from McCain's reported efforts “to be seen as” a “reformer.” Specifically, they did not report Federal Election Commission chairman David Mason has taken the position that McCain cannot legally opt out of public financing during the primary season without FEC approval, meaning that every day that McCain spends beyond the limits of the public financing system -- which he has already exceeded -- he could be breaking federal law.
As Media Matters for America noted when Salant uncritically quoted the McCain campaign attacking Obama over public financing on April 11, in a February 21 article, the Associated Press reported: “The government's top campaign finance regulator says John McCain can't drop out of the primary election's public financing system until he answers questions about a loan he obtained to kickstart his once faltering presidential campaign. Federal Election Commission Chairman David Mason, in a letter to McCain this week, said the all-but-certain Republican nominee needs to assure the commission that he did not use the promise of public money to help secure a $4 million line of credit he obtained in November." In a March 23 post on The Washington Post's The Trail blog, staff writer Matthew Mosk reported that “McCain has officially broken the limits imposed by the presidential public financing system,” and in a February 22 article, the Post noted that "[k]nowingly violating the spending limit is a criminal offense that could put McCain at risk of stiff fines and up to five years in prison." Under the Presidential Primary Matching Payment Account Act, violators could face fines up to $25,000 and up to five years of jail time.
In an April 10 article, The New York Times reported that Obama chief strategist David Axelrod drew attention to McCain's actions: “Alluding to a $4 million line of credit that Mr. McCain obtained late last year, secured in part by the promise of federal matching money for the primaries, Mr. Axelrod said the rest of the primary season 'should give Senator McCain time to figure out whether he was in or out of the campaign finance system in the primary, which is still an open question.' ” The loan could have required McCain to remain in the race, regardless of whether his candidacy was viable, in order to receive matching funds to pay back the loan.
From the June 13 Bloomberg article:
Barack Obama learned the pitfalls of claiming the moral high ground this week when a top adviser resigned under pressure. His next challenge is whether to forfeit a huge financial edge over Republican John McCain or renege on a promise to accept public-funding limits.
Obama pledged in March 2007 to pursue an agreement with the Republicans to participate in the public-financing system, which is designed to limit the influence of big money. That was before he began shattering private-fundraising records.
Strategists from both parties say the presumptive Democratic nominee would have an advantage of more than $100 million in the general election if he declines public money and its spending restrictions. The question is how much criticism he'd take for becoming the first presidential candidate to opt out of the system, which dates back to the Watergate era.
“The pressure once again is to prove that he's a different politician,'' said Kevin Madden, a Republican strategist who worked on Mitt Romney's primary campaign this year. Backing out would have ” all the elements of hypocrisy and expediency that could hurt this pristine brand that he tries to promote.''
The issue may have special resonance because both Obama and McCain are vying to be seen as reformers. Five aides have been forced out of McCain's campaign because of special-interest ties, and former Fannie Mae Chairman James Johnson quit Obama's vice presidential search committee on June 11 after reports that he may have received preferential mortgage terms from Countrywide Financial Corp.
Using the Issue
McCain has signaled he will use the public-financing issue against Obama.
In March 2007, McCain's campaign said the candidate would accept public money if the Democratic nominee did. Obama spokesman Bill Burton said his candidate would “aggressively pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee to preserve a publicly financed general election.''
By February 2008, the Obama campaign said public financing was only an ” option.'' Obama has refused to be pinned down on whether he'll participate, citing concerns about the effects of outside political groups that can raise millions and aren't controlled by campaigns.
“That's Washington double-speak,'' McCain responded. ” That's not transparency, nor is it keeping one's word to the American people.''