06/27/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Author Of McCain-Feingold: Obama Smart To Opt Out Of Public Funds

One of the principal authors of the most significant campaign finance legislation since Watergate said he was neither "outraged" nor "surprised" with Barack Obama's decision to forgo public funding in the general election.

Norm Ornstein, a fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute and substantial contributor to the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act -- also known as the "McCain-Feingold" campaign finance legislation -- said on Thursday that Obama's move was "pragmatically the right decision to make," and that, if the Senator had not chosen that path, "I would have sued him for political malpractice."

"What I told a bunch of people a few weeks ago," said Ornstein, "is that while it would be nice if he decided he felt honor bound to stay within the system and take the money, if he did so I might join a group of people who sued him for political malpractice. When you have the ability to raise the kind of money that he could raise and do it without selling your soul to spend all the time between now and the election on fundraisers, your goal is to win an election and not turn your back on the people voting. There will be outraged editorials and McCain will be justifiably pissed. But it was pragmatically the right decision for him to make."

Orstein told The Huffington Post that he had advised the Obama campaign about the issue of public finance a "long time ago" but not as the decision approached. "I don't think it was a slam dunk decision six months ago, in part because people didn't have any idea what kind of reach he could have, how many people he could bring into his camp."

In defending Obama, Orstein became the sole author of McCain-Feingold to offer sympathy for a position that, at least in the spirit, goes against the purpose of the campaign finance legislation. McCain, unsurprisingly, called Obama's pronouncement "a big deal."

"He has completely reversed himself and gone back, not on his word to me, but the commitment he made to the American people," said the Senator.

While Feingold, a stalwart champion of public funds, expressed a slightly less outraged sense of disappointment.

"This is not a good decision," said the Wisconsin Democrat. "While the current public financing system for the presidential primaries is broken, the system for the general election is not. The entire system must be updated."