DNC to File FEC Complaint Against McCain Campaign

John McCain's attempted politically motivated gaming of the public financing system is already drawing the attention of the Federal Elections Commisssion, with the chairman of the FEC firing off a letter to McCain's presidential campaign asking them to explain why, after they had been certified to become a part of the program, they believe they're able to pull out without approval. Now the Democratic National Committee is joining in the act, and will file an FEC complaint tomorrow against the McCain campaign.

According to DNC chairman Howard Dean, McCain has clearly received a "material gain" from being a part of the public financing program, and as such cannot opt out of it at this point.

First, McCain was able to get around ballot access rules for the primaries in states around the country -- at a value of $2-$3 million (what Dean's own campaign had to spend on ballot access, having not participated in the public financing system in 2004) -- by participating in the program. Pulling out now would enable him to reap the material benefit of ballot access offered by the program -- again, valued at millions of dollars -- without having to abide by the program's overall spending limit (somewhere in the neighborhood of $54 million).

Second, McCain used the promise of public funds as collateral to help secure a private loan. Once a candidate uses actual public funds in this manner, they have used those dollars, thus locking them into the program. This is key, not only in that it seems to bind him to the program but also in that McCain showed a clear willingness to capitalize on voluntary taxpayer money in order to help him raise more funds from special interest lobbyists (some of whom are at the upper echelons of his campaign staff).

Finally, now that McCain is in the program and hasn't been certified to pull out -- an act that requires a vote of the FEC -- it seems that he may have already gone over the spending limit in violation of the law. As of the last campaign finance filing deadline, McCain was already coming dangerously close to the $54 million threshold, and in the weeks since he might have already passed it.

In short, this is an issue of integrity -- and John McCain's lack of it. What the DNC is asking the FEC to do is fairly simple: Require McCain's campaign to abide by the legally binding contract it created with the federal government to enjoy the benefits of the public financing system -- benefits his campaign has already used -- in return for abiding by the program's spending limits. Soon the ball will be in the FEC's court. Let's see where they go from here.

Update [2008-2-24 15:48:13 by Jonathan Singer]: Howie Klein has the choice quote from Howard Dean:

"The crucial issue here is John McCain's integrity. John McCain poses as a reformer but he seems to think reforms apply to everyone else but him... His latest attempt to ignore the law is just more of his do as I say, not as I do hypocrisy and it calls his credibility into question. McCain financially benefited by accepting this agreement; he got free ballot access, saving him millions of dollars, and he secured a $4 million loan to keep his campaign afloat by using public financing as collateral. He should be held to the law."

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Are Expectations Getting Away from Obama...

... or is his campaign really on track to raise a jaw-dropping $50-$60 million this month?

Patrick Ruffini notes that Obama "had tallied about 256,000 donors for the year as of the end of January." These donors contributed an average of $140 each for a total of $36M.

Now, he notes, "Obama's public donor count stands at 583,525, meaning about 327,000 people donated in February. With the same average, that would give Obama just over $46 million in 21 days."

And Ruffini has created an embedded crowdsourced spreadsheet that tracks every bit of public data about Obama's fundraising. From those calculations, he gets at least $60M for the quarter.

Outside campaign advisers said that they believed the campaign would raise at least $50M, based on conversations they've had with the cryptkeepers.

How much will Hillary Clinton raise? Between $25M and $30M, according to advisers.

Just to be clear, $10 or $15 million raised in a month (which Hillary Clinton and John McCain both did last month) is not shabby, and $36 million in a month (which Barack Obama did in January) is simply remarkable. But $50-$60 million? If Obama hadn't blown away fundraising records with such seeming ease, I'd say impossible. But it sure seems like the rules of the game -- whether in terms of fundraising or voter turnout or general involvement of the public -- are changing under our feet, so perhaps impossible is nothing. Still, letting expectations get out of control is something no campaign ever wants to see, so this rampant speculation isn't necessarily a great thing for Obama (even if it makes him seem even stronger and more inevitable).

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McCain Opposed, Played Games with, then Quit Pub. Fin. System

I've said it before and I'll say it again: John McCain is one of the most cynical, conniving and excessively ambitious career politicians America has seen for a very long time. Today's evidence? McCain's machinations on public financing.

As you little doubt have seen, McCain has been desperately flailing at Barack Obama in recent days in the hopes of scoring some "maverick" points with the establishment media inside the Beltway (who always love that kind of stuff) by attacking Obama for not opting into the presidential public financing system for the general election even before he has won the Democratic nomination (if he ever does so). But who is McCain to talk on this issue?

Back in 1995, McCain voted with Strom Thurmond, Phil Gramm, Jesse Helms and Rick Santorum against an effort to save the public financing program. In effect, McCain voted with arch-conservatives -- the most reactionary wing of his party -- to help kill the program. Even 10 of his Republican colleagues voted for the measure, helping show McCain's true colors as an opportunist rather than someone willing to buck his party's leadership for the sake of principle. Said Common Cause of the vote, "This is not a matter of budget politics.  This is a matter of integrity." [1995 Senate Vote 194, Common Cause Statement, 5/25/1995]

When it finally suited him this year, McCain essentially pledged to be a part of the public financing system in order to secure a much needed loan for his campaign. The Washington Post today:

John McCain's cash-strapped campaign borrowed $1 million from a Bethesda bank two weeks before the New Hampshire primary by pledging to enter the public financing system if his bid for the presidency faltered, newly disclosed records show.

Then when it suited McCain, he pulled out of the public financing system rather than go through with his intention to be a part of the program. Yet now, when it suits McCain, he's hitting Obama for not opting in for a general election he is not yet (and may never be) a part of? McCain clearly has no credibility here, despite what the folks in the establishment press might think. No, McCain has shown time and time again that he is willing to play games with his perceived "principles" as it suited him. In this case, he voted against public financing before he opted into it before he opted out of it before he attacked Obama for doing so. I think there's a hyphenated pair of words used to describe people who waffle like that...

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McCain Feingold benefitted Obama over Hillary

It's ironic that John McCain who is the Republican nominee in waiting is one of the biggest reasons that Obama is in such great shape for the nomination.

Imagine if the latest reform went like this:

Any American can donate what they want to your campaign but it must be fully disclosed within 24 hours of receipt.

The blogs and reporters would check everyday for anything suspicious and everything would be above board.

This would have allowed Hillary to be fully funded to compete in every state, and she would be a runaway winner in this campaign.

YET

McCain Feingold has strict limits on donors, and all other rules that wound up benefitting Obama because he has an inspired large base who would give small amounts repeatedly.

Also, the rules that prohibit outside groups from politicking prevents help from friends forming to help out.

Look at the reality.  Hillary and Barack are basically equally liked by the party,  but Obama's people are more willing to give him money.  Why should that be the determining factor in the election?  Why shouldn't 1000 of Hillary's biggest supporters be able to offset the tens of thousands of Obama supporters.

True he would get bigger donations also, but after a certain point, both candidates would be fully funded.

Back in the 1990's Democrats started this "good government" type argument, and many never believed in it. But McCain put them to the test, and Bush signed the law thinking it would hurt Democrats.

Well it has helped Dems overall, but it does hurt Hillary in this race.  She has broken fundraising records, and is still behind.

Please, advocate for freedom within the Democratic party.  

btw.
If we are fully funded this November, we can for the first time compete in all 50 states.

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Obama Edging Away from Public Financing Option

When I read this morning that John McCain was talking about potentially accepting public financing in the general election, I worried that one of my fears about a Barack Obama candidacy would be realized: That he would, as he suggested last year, follow the Republican nominee's suit in opting in to the public financing system, constraining his ability to run a 50-state strategy (because of the spending cap) and forgoing the opportunity to capitalize on the Democrats' (and his) fundraising advantage over the GOP. But now, according to Ben Smith, the Obama campaign is edging away from this possibility.

Obama's campaign is backing away from suggestions that the Illinois senator would publicly finance his campaign in the general election, if he's the nominee, and referring to public financing as an "option" -- not as the "pledge" McCain's campaign claims Obama made.

McCain campaign manager Rick Davis told reporters yesterday that McCain would run a publicly financed campaign in the general election if Obama would.

[...]

I first pressed Obama's camp on this particular point more than a year ago, on Feb. 7, 2007, when they first floated the notion. And they deliberately preserved some wiggle room then.

"We're looking to see if we can preserve the option," spokesman Bill Burton said, when asked if the campaign was committing, conditionally, to public financing,

I asked Burton again today if this was a "pledge," and he repeated that it's an "option."

As alluded to in my first paragraph, I am decidedly of the opinion that the Democratic nominee -- whether Obama or Hillary Clinton -- should opt out of the public financing system in the general election. The hard cap on overall spending required of candidates participating in the public financing system makes it effectively impossible to run a meaningful campaign in more than about a dozen states -- let alone run a 50-state strategy. This means that playing in states that are trending blue but not quite there yet (think Colorado, Virginia, etc.) becomes a significantly more risky proposition because every cent spent there is a cent that can't be spent in more traditional swing states like Pennsylvania or Florida. But by opting out of the public financing system a candidate is not subject to spending caps, meaning that the opportunity cost of campaigning in reddish-purple states -- or even red states -- is significantly lower at the limit on spending is only how much money can be raised, rather than an arbitrary number set by the number of Americans checking off a box on their tax filings.

Beyond that, opting out of the public financing system could ironically serve the cause of campaign finance reform. As the system currently stands, unregulated soft money pours into 527 organizations and other such committees, both because the presidential campaigns themselves can't accept contributions during the general election and because the campaigns are limited in what they can spend. But there is a possibility that 527 organizations will be denied some of their funding -- or, at the least, they will be made relatively less important -- by the official presidential campaigns being able to spend hundreds of millions of dollars rather than just tens. Why is this important, you ask? The hundreds of millions of dollars that have already flowed into the coffers of presidential candidates and would continue to do so are regulated, limited and largely disclosed. They are all hard money contributions. In the battle between hard money and soft money, if the amount of hard money that can be spent comes closer to parity with the soft money -- or even overtakes it -- as a result of candidates opting out of the public finance system, the overall financing of the general election will actually be more regulated and open than if the candidates opted into the program.

So here's to hoping that Obama says no, rather than yes, to this option.

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