POLITICS
01/25/2011 10:25 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

White House Opposes GOP Attack On Public Financing, But Obama Makes Flawed Advocate

WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration on Tuesday released a policy statement formally opposing a House Republican bill to end the public-financing system of presidential elections.

The statement, released by the Office of Management and Budget, urged that public financing be "fixed rather than dismantled" and argued that, absent some form of taxpayer money, candidates would be completely dependent on "corporations and special interests" and forced into an "endless cycle of fundraising at the expense of engagement with voters."

On Monday, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs offered similar sentiments, telling The Huffington Post during his daily press briefing that "ensuring that we have a fair campaign system is something that we all support."

The two statements add up to a relatively rare show of force from the Obama White House, which often prefers not to publicly argue for particular legislative action. Campaign-finance reform advocates welcomed the show of support, coming just ahead of the House debate over H.R. 359, a Republican bill that would eliminate public funds for presidential elections.

"The current system is very clearly broken - reformers and President Obama agree on this," Nick Nyhart, president and CEO of Public Campaign, wrote in an email to The Huffington Post. "It's just as clear that the White House and Congress should now work together to fix the outdated system, not repeal it, by giving more clout to small contributors."

But it's hard to see Obama as the ideal spokesman for public financing. He was, after all, the first presidential candidate since Watergate to opt out of the public system, freeing his campaign to raise hundreds of millions of dollars.

Despite insistence that he favors strengthening campaign-finance laws, there is no indication that Obama will use the public system in his 2012 reelection campaign, and his aides have done little to tamp down talk that it might be the first billion-dollar election.

As a result, the president has become a symbol for Republicans to exploit, not just as a means of rallying their base behind H.R. 359, but to argue that public financing is a hopeless, wasteful and antiquated endeavor.

"Congress must prioritize the way that taxpayer dollars are spent," Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), told The Huffington Post. "The reality is that political campaigns operate entirely differently today than they did in the 1970s. Technological advancements have fundamentally altered modern elections so that all candidates have the opportunity to communicate to broad audiences and secure the resources needed to run a successful campaign, a fact that was proven by President Obama and his team."