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WASHINGTON - Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said Thursday he'll bypass the federal public financing system in the general election, abandoning an earlier commitment to take the money if his Republican rival did as well.
Obama, who set records raising money in the primary election, will forgo more than $84 million that would have been available to him in the general election. He would be the first candidate to do so since Congress passed 1970s post-Watergate campaign finance laws. Sen. John McCain, the Republican nominee in waiting, has taken steps to accept the public funds in the general election.
Obama officials said they decided to take that route because McCain is already spending privately raised funds toward the general election campaign. Obama has vastly outraised McCain, however, and would likely retain that advantage if McCain accepts the public money.
The public finance system is paid for with the $3 contributions that taxpayers can make to the presidential fund in their tax returns.
"It's not an easy decision, and especially because I support a robust system of public financing of elections," Obama told supporters in a video message Thursday. "But the public financing of presidential elections as it exists today is broken, and we face opponents who've become masters at gaming this broken system."
Obama said McCain and the Republican National Committee are fueled by contributions from Washington lobbyists and political action committees.
"And we've already seen that he's not going to stop the smears and attacks from his allies running so-called 527 groups, who will spend millions and millions of dollars in unlimited donations," Obama said.
Obama has shattered president campaign fundraising records, raking in more than $265 million thus far.
Obama campaign lawyer Robert Bauer said he had met with McCain lawyers to discuss terms for both campaigns operating in the public financing system, but he said they could not agree on how to limit spending by the campaigns and outside groups heading into the late summer party conventions.38.89037 -77.03196