Obama's Public Finance Flip-flop

The Illinois senator has a finance credibility problem.

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Which two senators, now running for president, promised last year to accept public financing if the other party's nominee did so as well?

Which one is sticking by his promise and which is not?

Sen. Hillary Clinton never promised to take public financing if she clinched the Democratic nomination. Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain did, provided the other would do so as well. McCain is sticking to his promise. Obama is dancing around his.

Obama declared this week that he has created a "parallel public financing system." Come again? Let him explain: Under parallel public financing, "the American people decide if they want to support a campaign, they can get on the Internet and finance it."

Up to this moment, "public" financing has meant taking money from the federal government for the general presidential election. Obama's new system is public, because "the public" sends him the money.

Of course, it behooves McCain to accept federal funding, and it would hurt Obama to do so, as Obama is amassing record donations: "Obama, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, has amassed $234 million — three times more than Republican McCain has raised," Bloomberg reported. "That puts Obama on the verge of shattering the fundraising mark set by President George W. Bush in 2004."

Not all of Obama's support comes from the little donor he touts with increasing frequency. "Industry PACs may not give directly to his campaign, but employees of industries may do so, and many of his contributors have come from executives and their spouses," the Wall Street Journal noted. "For example, Mr. Obama leads all candidates in donations from the pharmaceutical industry and commercial banks, among other industries."

The New York Times reported earlier this year, for example, that while Obama did not accept money from nuclear industry lobbyists, he did take nearly a quarter-million dollars from Exelon's top executives. Exelon is the largest supplier of nuclear power in the nation, and it failed to disclose radiation leaks at one of its Illinois plants in 2006. And, the paper reported, while Obama initially sponsored legislation requiring that all nuclear power companies disclose such leaks, he eventually modified it to satisfy Exelon, Senate Republicans, and nuclear regulators. (The bill eventually died from parliamentary wrangling.)

If he accepts money from its executives, while watering down antinuclear legislation, what's the difference between that and accepting money from lobbyists?

Arguably, none.