IN A NOT-surprising move, the Democrats' presumptive nominee for president, Sen. Barack Obama, has opted out of the federal financing system for the general election campaign.
Also not surprisingly, his Republican opponent, Sen. John McCain, criticized the Illinois senator for the decision, citing previous statements by Mr. Obama that he would accept public funding and the associated spending limits as long as his Nov. 4 opponent also did.
It is true that Mr. Obama's change of position was something of a flip-flop. Mr. McCain said he will stay within the federal funding system. Leaving the public financing route for the sky's-the-limit approach is also fundamentally at odds with the ethical high road that Mr. Obama's campaign has espoused.
It is also true, however, that Mr. McCain has flip-flopped himself on a series of issues, as he tries to find compatibility between his previous positions and the exigencies this year of campaigning and raising money from his party's conservative base.
The media, especially television, make big money from heavy campaign spending. So do the communications companies, who provide the mechanisms candidates use to solicit money from the public. And campaigns are a treasure trove for consultants.
The most deplorable part is the access to the candidates, and ultimately those who are elected to office, that is obtained by those who pony up the money. Let us not imagine for a minute that there isn't a pecking order between those who send in $25 via the Internet and those who work to bundle hundreds of thousands of dollars from their friends and associates for a particular candidate.
President Bush's heavy-hitters were called Pioneers or Rangers; from the voters' point of view, perhaps such donors should be known as "rustlers."
It is disingenuous of Mr. Obama to justify his strategic move by citing the existence of political advocacy groups, known as "527s," - Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, in 2004, for example - that spend a lot on campaigns but face little regulation. The Democrats do as well with 527s as the Republicans. See, for example, the current anti-McCain commercial, "You Can't Have Baby Alex," financed by MoveOn.org.
This was a money move by Mr. Obama. It may have made good sense for his run for the White House, but it also sadly pointed up the continued failure to limit money and its influence in America's political campaigns.