McCain counsel disputes Obama camp's account

An Obama spokesman says comments by a lawyer for McCain's campaign showed that McCain wasn't interested in dealing on public financing, but the lawyer says that's not true.

Published June 19, 2008 3:10PM (EDT)

As I noted in my previous post, Obama spokesman Bill Burton says that lawyers for the two major presidential campaigns met recently and that McCain's camp showed "no interest in the possibility of an agreement" on public financing. But John McCain's counsel, Trevor Potter, says that's not true.

In an e-mail to ABC News' Jake Tapper, a former Salon reporter, Potter wrote:

This is not true! I met with Bob Bauer on a different subject (a joint panel we had yesterday in Rhode Island sponsored by the National Assoc. of Attys General) about 10 days ago. During that meeting, he asked what Sen. McCain's position was on public general election funding, and I said we were for it, and hoped Sen. Obama would participate as well. There was absolutely NO discussion of 'negotiations' about participating -- the word was never mentioned. What was odd is that Bob Bauer then made the argument to me that neither candidate needed public funding -- that Sen. McCain could raise as much for the general election as Sen. Obama 'within $5 or $10 million.' I responded that Sen. McCain believed in the general election public funding system, and thought it was good for the country.

So -- no discussion of 'negotiations' and no rejection of negotiations -- only a clear statement by me that Sen. McCain hoped both candidates would participate in the system. If they wanted to 'negotiate,' they NEVER mentioned it to me.

I've e-mailed Burton to ask for comment. If and when he responds, I'll update this post.

Update: Tapper has details of remarks that Obama counsel Bauer made at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast this morning. Bauer's account of what happened is quite different from Potter's.

"I met with [Potter] ... within the last 10 days to two weeks," Bauer said, continuing:

We had two items on the agenda. The other one is not relevant here nor particularly newsworthy. But [public financing] was the other item ... And it became clear to me, and I reported to the campaign, that there really wasn't a basis for further discussion. On the question of whether Sen. McCain had any comment -- or his campaign had any comment -- on the extended period, seven month period, that he would have had to privately finance his general from Super Tuesday all the way to the convention, the answer was that they were confident that we would find a way to catch up, perhaps. They thought we'd probably be able to draw even -- both campaigns would be in the same position by August.

On the question of 527 activity there really wasn't any response. Overall, it was very clear that there really wasn't going to be any particular dialogue or purported created solution that could put the campaigns in a position where they could credibly claim that they had agreed on a meaningful publicly financed general election campaign on fair and competitive terms. There just simply wasn't the basis for that in the discussion.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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2008 Elections Barack Obama John Mccain R-ariz.