PROVO A Brigham Young University survey shows that Sen. Barack Obama's decision to decline public financing for his presidential campaign likely won't be a big deal for voters as they weigh what issues matter in the race for the American presidency.
A Harris Interactive/BYU poll indicates that any political hit from Obama's flip-flop on a March 2007 promise to take the public funding, and then abide by established spending limits, would be minimal.
The nationwide poll was an online survey of 2,062 U.S. adults between May 5 and May 12.
Nearly three-quarters of those surveyed 74 percent said they would think neither negatively nor positively if Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, opted out of the general-election funding.
Nearly the same number 72 percent said the same about presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain.
The public indifference to the issue found by the poll extended to Sen. Hillary Clinton, with 70 percent saying they would take neither a positive nor negative view of her if she would have won the Democratic nomination and decided to reject public financing.
"Most people don't seem to care one way or the other," said Jay Goodliffe, associate professor of political science at BYU and a research fellow at the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy.
With the decision, which was announced Thursday, Obama became the first presidential candidate from a major party to decline the funding since it was introduced 35 years ago as a step toward campaign-finance reform.
Obama's decision is complicated, at least politically, by his previous statement that he would take money from the Presidential Election Fund and then follow the required spending rules.
"He said that before he became the greatest fundraising marvel in the history of the United States," said Kirk Jowers, director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah. "One of the enduring stories of his historic run will be his fundraising success."
Obama quickly qualified his comment, indicating he would accept the public financing if McCain did.
"Overall, based on the survey, it appears voters wouldn't mind so much," Goodliffe said, "but it hasn't been made into a big campaign issue yet."
McCain, said he would accept the public money for the fall campaign $85 million available from early September until Election Day and declared that Obama had broken his word. Obama, who has shattered fundraising records during the primary, is likely to raise far more than the taxpayer-financed presidential fund can supply.
"John McCain absolutely will hit Obama over this and already has made a fuss of Obama potentially backing out of what he sees as a promise to join McCain in taking the public funding," Jowers said.
Obama promptly showed off his financial muscle Thursday with his first commercial of the general election campaign. The ad, a 60-second biographical spot, will begin airing Friday in 18 states, including historically Republican strongholds.
By releasing his first ad of the general election, Obama also diluted the impact of the money story with a strong visual that was likely to dominate the day's television coverage of the campaign. Obama will draw attention to his finances again on Friday, when his campaign files its May fundraising report with the Federal Election Commission.
Last year, Obama completed a questionnaire where he vowed to "aggressively pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee to preserve a publicly financed general election." But since clinching the Democratic nomination earlier this month, Obama has not broached the subject with McCain. The only discussion occurred about two weeks ago between Obama's and McCain's lawyers.
Obama lawyer Robert Bauer said he discussed the issue for 45 minutes on June 6 with McCain counsel Trevor Potter. In interviews and e-mails, both Bauer and Potter agree that Bauer raised concerns about McCain having a head start because he had secured the nomination three months before Obama. Potter said he told Bauer that given Obama's fundraising "I was sure there would be no McCain advantage by the end of the summer."
That meeting, Potter said, "was not part of any negotiation" on public financing.
"There was no aggressive pursuit of negotiations with the McCain campaign, there was no pursuit, period, of negotiations with the McCain campaign," Potter added later in a conference call with reporters. At a breakfast with reporters Thursday, Bauer said that after his meeting with Potter, "It became clear to me, and I reported to the campaign, that there really wasn't a basis for further discussion."
Sen. Russ Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat who has worked with McCain on campaign finance laws in the past, praised Obama for his support of current campaign finance legislation, but added: "This decision was a mistake."
Obama has shattered presidential campaign fundraising records, raking in more than $265 million by the end of April. Of that, nearly $10 million was for the general election, reserved for spending after the party's national convention in August. McCain had raised nearly $115 million by the end of May, eligible for spending before the convention.
McCain filed his May fundraising report Thursday with the Federal Election Commission, showing he raised $21 million during the month and started June with $31.5 million in cash on hand. McCain had announced those numbers earlier this month. He spent a total of $11.7 million in May.
On the other hand, Obama's clear financial advantage over McCain is offset in part by the resources of the Republican National Committee, which has far more money in the bank than the Democratic National Committee. Both national parties can spend money on behalf of the presidential candidates.
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.