Democracy Has Prevailed.

June 21, 2008

McCain Campaign Finance Scandal Explained


This time from After pointing out how the media gave Senator McCain a pss while pouncing on Senator Obama, Jamison Foster writes:

John McCain said he would take public financing for the Republican primaries. Then he used the promise of that public financing to help secure a loan for his campaign. Then, after he wrapped up the Republican nomination, he abruptly decided he did not want to be bound by the limits on campaign fundraising and spending that accompany public financing, so he announced that he had changed his mind.

But Federal Election Commission chairman David Mason sent McCain a letter saying that he cannot unilaterally opt out of the public financing system without FEC approval -- a letter the McCain campaign ignored. If McCain cannot opt out of the system unilaterally, he has broken the law by raising and spending funds in excess of legal limits, and continues to do so each day. Even if McCain isn't breaking the law, he has already broken his word and "reversed himself" on the question of whether he would take public funding for the primaries.

The Washington Post explained McCain's sleight-of-hand trick last February:

But McCain's attempts to build up his campaign coffers before a general election contest appeared to be threatened by the stern warning yesterday from Federal Election Commission Chairman David M. Mason, a Republican. Mason notified McCain that the commission had not granted his Feb. 6 request to withdraw from the presidential public financing system.

The implications of that could be dramatic. Last year, when McCain's campaign was starved for cash, he applied to join the financing system to gain access to millions of dollars in federal matching money. He was also permitted to use his FEC certification to bypass the time-consuming process of gathering signatures to get his name on the ballot in several states, including Ohio.

By signing up for matching money, McCain agreed to adhere to strict state-by-state spending limits and an overall limit on spending of $54 million for the primary season, which lasts until the party's nominating convention in September. The general election has a separate public financing arrangement.

But after McCain won a series of early contests and the campaign found its financial footing, his lawyer wrote to the FEC requesting to back out of the program -- which is permitted for candidates who have not yet received any federal money and who have not used the promise of federal funding as collateral for borrowing money.

Mason's letter raises two issues as the basis for his position. One is that the six-member commission lacks a quorum, with four vacancies because of a Senate deadlock over President Bush's nominees for the seats. Mason said the FEC would need to vote on McCain's request to leave the system, which is not possible without a quorum. Until that can happen, the candidate will have to remain within the system, he said.

The second issue is more complicated. It involves a $1 million loan McCain obtained from a Bethesda bank in January. The bank was worried about his ability to repay the loan if he exited the federal financing program and started to lose in the primary race. McCain promised the bank that, if that happened, he would reapply for matching money and offer those as collateral for the loan. While McCain's aides have argued that the campaign was careful to make sure that they technically complied with the rules, Mason indicated that the question needs further FEC review.

If the FEC refuses McCain's request to leave the system, his campaign could be bound by a potentially debilitating spending limit until he formally accepts his party's nomination. His campaign has already spent $49 million, federal reports show.

Knowingly violating the spending limit is a criminal offense that could put McCain at risk of stiff fines and up to five years in prison.

If he'd already spent $49 million by last February, how much you wanna bet he's been over the $54 million limit by now?


Richmond K. Turner said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Richmond K. Turner said...

I look at things this way, David. You've done post after post on this thing that McCain has done. But I still don't understand it. It's just way to freaking complicated, and gets bogged down into the minutuae of Federal Election law that nobody outside of a small cadre of dedicated lawyers could ever hope to be completely come to terms with.

On the other hand, Obama's election funding story is all too clear. He said he would do something, he never did it, never even tried to do it, and now he confirms that he won't do it. You can twist semantics on his promise all you like, claim that this was never really a promise, but even left-leaning publications such as The Washington Post are pretty clear. Obama has more or less has lied to us.

About a month ago, as Clinton's campaign was finally teetering on the brink, I read an editorial somewhere which claimed that the difference between Clinton and Obama was that Obama might end up lying to the us, and might bend whatever ethical rules stood between him and his goals, but that we could already be totally sure that Clinton would do both of these things.

Now that this "might" has changed into "totally sure", and I can't say that I'm not enormously disappointed. The "new kind of politics" has morphed into the "same old bullshit" in less than a month, and Obama's word can no longer be trusted. He's just another politician now, just as some bloggers have been warning us all along.

Sure I see why he did it. It is obviously to his enormous (financial) advantage for him to break his word and use private financing. But this isn't the first time that he's thrown what he claimed to be deeply held beliefs under the bus (or "under the truck", as David Brooks curiously called it yesterday).

I'm not calling him a flip-flopper, or wishing I had supported Clinton instead of Obama, or saying that I won't vote for him. But I certainly won't vote for him expecting anything different from the horrific lying bullshit that have infested our politics for as long as I can remember.

Anonymous said...


I think there's a larger point here. Let's say for the sake of the argument that Senator Obama did lie (and I'm not saying he did, at best he changed his mind), but the larger point is that Senator McCain is BREAKING THE LAW. Which is worse? A Democrat lying or a Republican breaking the law?

But because the story is seen as complicated (and really, it isn't) the media that's been giving McCain a pass for years continues to do so and turns its lonely eyes to Senator Obama. McCain's the "maverick" on the "straight talk express" so he can't have possibly changed HIS mind on his campaign financal situation, right?

And yet he has. McCain opted into public financing for the primary season and with that financing he agreed to a set limit on spending. He hasn't been let out of his comittment and because he's continued to spend, he's over that limit. And thus breaking the law.

Which story is the media covering right now? Which story is the media covering more?

Anonymous said...

I respectfully submit that the people playing semantics are the ones saying that Obama's statement: “If I am the Democratic nominee, I will aggressively pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee to preserve a publicly financed general election.” is equivalent to "I pledge to take public financing."

John McCain didn't want to negotiate - he wanted Obama to capitulate.

Anonymous said...

Both campaigns can be criticized -- Obama's vulnerability seems easier for most people to understand but there is no suggestion of illegality, while McCain's problems are more complicated but raise the prospect of criminal exposure and financial misconduct.

In these end, these are small potatoes.

If you favor Obama, work for him and hope for the future.

If you favor McCain, order tissues for early November delivery and hope for a miracle.

Anonymous said...

John K. says: I love this stuff. "Knowingly violating the spending limits...up to five years in prison.
I told you. Liberal answer to all political opposition. Put them in jail or impeach them. The liberals operate like a bunch of thugs.

Anonymous said...

John! John! You're still being delusional! Wake up, John! Wake up! You're going to be so disappointed when you realize that reality happened while Rush was lying to you.

Anonymous said...

Check out this Melissa Hart video about oil drilling:

Anonymous said...

John K. says: Or what shitforbrains? You going to impeach me or put me in jail? Or perhaps impose the fairness doctrine? LOL LOL The liberal answer to anyone who disagees, impeach or indict. Just ask Cullen, the local spokesperson. LMAO

Anonymous said...

John! John! How many of those pills did you take! Wake up, John!