WASHINGTON-The legacy of the sharp questioning of Tim Russert, who died Friday, is clear in this exchange he had in a Feb. 27 Democratic primary debate where as moderator, Russert challenged now presumptive Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) about the pledge he made to opt for public financing. On Thursday, Obama announced he will not take public financing. "You may break your word," Russert asked. Obama replied, , "What I've said is, at the point where I'm the nominee, at the point where it's appropriate, I will sit down with John McCain and make sure that we have a system that works for everybody."
The entire exchange:
RUSSERT: Senator Obama, let me ask you about motivating, inspiring, keeping your word. Nothing more important.
Last year you said if you were the nominee you would opt for public financing in the general election of the campaign, try to get some of the money out. You checked "yes" on a questionnaire.
And now Senator McCain has said, calling your bluff, let's do it. You seem to be waffling, saying, well, if we can work on an arrangement here.
Why won't you keep your word in writing that you made to abide by public financing of the fall election?
OBAMA: Tim, I am not yet the nominee. And what I have said is, when I am the nominee, if I am the nominee -- because we've still got a bunch of contests left, and Senator Clinton is a pretty tough opponent -- if I am the nominee, then I will sit down with John McCain and make sure that we have a system that is fair for both sides. Because, Tim, as you know, there are all sorts of ways of getting around these loopholes.
Senator McCain is trying to explain some of the things that he has done so far, where he accepted public financing money but people aren't exactly clear whether all of the t's were crossed and the i's were dotted. Now, what I want to point out, though, more broadly is how we have approached this campaign.
I said very early on I would not take PAC money, I would not take money from federal registered lobbyists. That was a multi-million- dollar decision, but it was the right thing to do. And the reason we were able to do that was because I had confidence that the American people, if they were motivated, would, in fact, finance the campaign.
We have now raised 90 percent of our donations from small donors, $25, $50. We average -- our average donation is $109. So we have built the kind of organization that is funded by the American people that is exactly the goal and the aim of everybody who's interested in good government and politics that works.
RUSSERT: So you may opt out of public financing. You may break your word.
OBAMA: What I've said is, at the point where I'm the nominee, at the point where it's appropriate, I will sit down with John McCain and make sure that we have a system that woks for everybody.