POLITICS
07/01/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

McCain Surrogate Hits Obama On Public Financing, Sidesteps On McCain Loan

On CNN's American Morning today, McCain surrogate Nancy Pfotenhauer continued last week's attacks on Senator Barack Obama's decision to opt out of public financing in favor of his own dedicated funding mechanism. Pfotenhauer continued the McCain camp's ongoing message that Obama somehow violated the public trust, saying, "It's doing the right thing when it's difficult that character is revealed. So juxtapose Obama, who has a preacher's gift for a righteous statement but side steps like a politician when it's going to cost him anything, with John McCain who wouldn't take the easy way out, even when his life was on the line as a prisoner of war."

CNN's John Roberts did offer up a little bit of pushback, raising the question of whether McCain cheated the campaign financing system to secure a loan when he needed one. Josh Marshall has the details over at Talking Points Memo:

McCain opt[ed] into public financing, accepted the spending limits and then profited from that opt-in by securing a campaign saving loan. And then he used some clever, but not clever enough lawyering, to opt back out. And the person charged with saying what flies and what doesn't -- the Republican head of the FEC -- said he's not allowed to do that. He can't opt out unilaterally unless the FEC says he can.

The most generous interpretation of what happened is that McCain's lawyer came up with an ingenious legal two step that allowed him to double dip in the campaign finance system, eat his cake and spend it too. But even if you buy that line, successful gaming of the system doesn't really count as strict adherence. And the point is irrelevant since the head of the FEC -- a Republican -- says McCain cannot do this on his own.

Pfotenhauer's response was a mouthload of gibberish about how the "primary season is broken" and how McCain is a "bold man" who takes "bold action." Like, say, boldly breaking the law!

Right about now, it would be worth noting that maintaining a strained and strenuous opposition to the new G.I. Bill, only to slip in at the last minute when its passage became inevitable and cravenly attempt to take credit for the bill - as McCain has done - is neither "bold," nor the actions of someone who's built his character by doing the "right thing" when it was "difficult." So there, I've noted it.

[WATCH.]

ROBERTS: There's been an awful lot of criticism of Senator Obama for this decision from the McCain campaign. Isn't that just because it puts Senator McCain at a distinct financial disadvantage?

PFOTENHAUER: I don't think so. This is something that both gentlemen said they would pursue because it was the right thing to do. It was the right thing to do because pursuing public financing is a way of keeping corruption and special interest politics to a minimum. And the bottom line is that Obama broke his word to the American people. You know, it's easy -- doing the right thing is easy, it doesn't really test your character. It's doing the right thing when it's difficult that character is revealed. So juxtapose Obama, who has a preacher's gift for a righteous statement but side steps like a politician when it's going to cost him anything, with John McCain who wouldn't take the easy way out, even when his life was on the line as a prisoner of war. And he was offered early release and special treatment and he refused to take it because that wasn't the right thing to do.

ROBERTS: Let me try to keep this focused on campaign finance. We had Robert Gibbs, the communications director from the Obama campaign on this program on Friday. He says that the McCain campaign uses financing -- that the public system only when it suits his purpose and that he's got his own problems when it comes to public versus private financing. Let's listen to what Robert Gibbs said.

GIBBS (taped): John McCain used the public financing system over the last two years and gamed it every step of the way. When his poll numbers were good he was out of the public financing system. When his poll numbers were bad, he was using the public financing system as nothing more than a shell game.

ROBERTS: So what he's talking about there, Nancy, is back in the early stages of the primary campaign when John McCain wasn't doing so well, it looked like he was going to take public financing and then when his poll numbers came up he decided to opt out. Then there was this idea of this line of credit for $4 million that he took and still some lingering questions over whether or not he used that as collateral for public financing. The FEC still wants to know about this and the democrats are going to refile a lawsuit on that issue tomorrow morning. So what do you say about that?

PFOTENHAUER: Of course they are. That's the nature of politics. But you know, John, that there's a big difference between public financing at the primary level and the general election. People have acknowledged from both parties that the primary system is broken, if you will, from the standpoint of financing. And it was the people who were kind of the cream of the crop who are committing to public financing in the general election. And Obama, that he would aggressively pursue it and threw it out the window the second it was inconvenient. Bold talk, not bold actions. Frankly, bold actions that makes the man.

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