US Republican John McCain attacked Democratic rival Barack Obama for breaking a pledge to rely on public funds, instead of private donations, in their presidential race.
Mr Obama’s decision to forego public funds will allow him to continue his record-breaking fundraising machine that is bound to generate much more than the USD$84m (€54m) he would have received in government money.
But by abandoning his earlier commitment, Mr Obama also risks damaging the image he has cultivated as a fresh candidate who would change the money-tainted ways of Washington.
Mr McCain said he will rely on public financing and criticised Mr Obama for backtracking.
“This election is about a lot of things. It’s also about trust. It’s about keeping your word,” he told reporters while campaigning in Iowa.
The public funding system is designed to reduce the influence of money in politics. It levels the playing field, as each candidate receives the same amount.
Accepting it, however, disqualifies a candidate from using private funds once he is officially chosen as a party’s nominee, which will happen at the parties’ conventions in August and September.
By foregoing public funds, Mr Obama, who is seeking to become the first black president of the US, would be able to raise, and spend, as much as he wants right up to the November election.
Mr Obama officials said they decided to take that route because Mr McCain is already spending privately raised funds toward the general election campaign.
Mr Obama said Mr McCain and the Republican National Committee are fuelled by contributions from Washington lobbyists and political action committees.
“It’s not an easy decision, and especially because I support a robust system of public financing of elections,” Mr Obama told supporters in a video message.
“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.”
Mr Obama’s clear financial advantage over Mr 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.
Several campaign finance watchdog groups voiced dismay at Mr Obama’s decision, with Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer noting that the conditions Mr Obama had initially set for accepting public funds had been met.
Last year, Mr Obama filled out a questionnaire where he vowed to “aggressively pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee to preserve a publicly financed general election”.
However, since clinching the Democratic nomination earlier this month, Mr Obama has not broached the subject with Mr McCain.
Senator Russ Feingold, a Democrat who has worked with Mr McCain on campaign finance laws in the past, praised Mr Obama for his support of current campaign finance legislation, but added: “This decision was a mistake.”