Barack Obama made it official today: He has decided to forego federal matching funds for the general election, thereby allowing his campaign to raise and spend as much as possible.

By so doing, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee becomes the first candidate to reject public funds for the general election. The current system was created in 1976 in reaction to the Watergate scandal.

In a video e-mail sent to supporters, Obama said he was opting out of public financing because the system "is broken, and we face opponents who've become masters at gaming this broken system."

The public financing system gives each major-party candidate $84 million to spend between the nominating conventions and the election on Nov. 4. By accepting the money, a candidate agrees not to raise or spend any additional funds.

The limits do not apply to independent committees and groups, which are free to spend as much as they want. That's the part Obama referred to as broken.

Thus far, the Illinois senator has raised over $265 million during the primary season. His decision today allows him to ask each of his donors for additional contributions, up to $2,300 per person.

Obama and his prospective Republican opponent, John McCain, have sparred over public financing in the past, with McCain pointing out that Obama pledged last year – before anyone knew how successful the Democrat would be raising money – to accept public funds for the general election.

McCain has promised to take the public funds himself, but only if the Democratic nominee goes along.

"Now, obviously, he's backing off that commitment," McCain said in an interview this past Friday, anticipating Obama's move. "It's not the first issue that he's backing off on. . .I still lean toward accepting public financing. But we won't make a final decision until we see what he does."

Today, a campaign spokeswoman added: "Barack Obama has revealed himself to be just another typical politician who will do and say whatever is most expedient for Barack Obama."

Contact senior writer Larry Eichel at 215-854-2415 or leichel@phillynews.com.