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Obama Camp Responds on Campaign Finance

In a Sen. Barack Obama campaign-organized conference call with reporters, Bob Bauer, the Obama camp’s general counsel, had this to say hen asked if the 40 to 45 minute meeting he had with his McCain campaign counterpart, Trevor Potter, could really be considered "aggressively pursuing" negotiations:

Trevor suggests [the meeting] was only partially devoted to this subject. It was mainly devoted to this subject…We ended up talking at length about this public financing issue. I raised some significant issues. By the way, I should mention, towards the end I asked him to summarize his position on why, in his view, it makes sense for both candidates to agree to enter the public funding system. I offered him, both in that summary fashion and earlier, more than a few opportunities to engage with me around the issues that we raised.

What he simply did was, for all practical purposes, deflect them by telling me that we need not be concerned about them. It seems to me that if we scheduled the discussion, and we put forward our concerns, and we hear nothing back nor anything that could in any way suggest these exchanges were productive, it isn’t clear to me that the McCain campaign is in any position to accuse us of failing to negotiate. We put some issues on the table. They disappeared completely for two weeks. Nothing they said could they possibly have reasonably construed to have been encouraging. There wasn’t one mention on his part, at any point, of wishing to work with us around some of these concerns…There was absolutely no engagement. There comes a point where they have to take some responsibility here. I think it proves they weren’t really prepared to address any of those concerns, which is why we reasonably concluded that any further discussion was fruitless.

The call was in response to a conference call the McCain camp had just hosted, in which Potter said the Obama campaign had made no effort to negotiate with the McCain campaign before announcing that Sen. Barack Obama would opt out of the general election public financing system earlier today. Bauer said Mccain’s recent remarks about not reining in 527 groups influenced Obama’s decision.

Sen. McCain, in a much-covered remark, announced…for the first time in his career, that he really didn’t have time to worry about [527 groups]. And Trevor said that again today. Trevor said today that Sen. McCain is too busy with other things right now, he has his own campaign to worry about, he can’t worry about 527s. For those who have followed campaign finance, this is the first time in Sen. McCain’s career that he hasn’t had time to follow the activities, criticize the activities, call law enforcement down on the activities of 527s. I think we’re not straining too hard to draw the appropriate conclusion from that. When we saw each other in Rhode Island…we had a one hour, very fruitful, particularly pleasant and construction discussion about elections reform.

Bauer also accused McCain of "gaming the system" by opting out of the primary public funding program — for which the Democratic National Committee has recently filed a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission

I think we did, all things considered…everything that could be considered reasonable in the circumstances. Given that we are now in June, and this can’t be something that is for purely political purposes debated with an unwilling party on the other side indefinitely. We’re dealing with a candidate whose own gaming of the primary matching funds system, I have to be honest about that. That’s how we saw it. That’s how the just-fired chairman of the FEC has seen it. We’re dealing with somebody who had gamed the system fairly aggressively…has been involved, in and out of that system, as his political circumstances dictated, and he exited from the primary matching funds system just as the nomination became is, so he could embark quickly on a full general election campaign funded entirely with private money, raised both in his own campaign and through the Republican National Committee. Take that to begin with. Then our campaign goes on in the primary for a considerably longer period, so by the time June arrives, he has gone from February to June raising and spending money. And contrary to the lackadaisical pace of events Trevor describes, he’s running ads in Ohio, in Pennsylvania, in Iowa, in Michigan, in a number of locations.

Nonetheless, we still called…I raised the concerns that we had that the circumstances had really given us pause here, and I gave him an opportunity to respond, to engage us in some way, and to give us a sense that there was a point, on a compressed calendar, of pursuing the discussion further. And he didn’t do anything of the sort…And then they disappeared for two weeks. Over that two-week period, on top of all of that, we find out that they’re not planning to do what we’ve done, which is to try to rein in outside groups that will be friendly to us. In fact, he gave us a contrary signal. I think, in the context, that they haven’t lifted a finger to say something constructive on the subject, I don’t believe our own initiative can be faulted.

Stay tuned. We haven’t heard the last of this.

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