by Jonathan Singer, Sun Feb 24, 2008 at 09:45:50 AM EST
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."