McCain’s Lingering FEC Problem
McCain won a clean sweep of the four March 4th Republican states, but in order to arrive at the RNC convention with a fighting chance against the eventual Democratic nominee John McCain needs to be able to withdraw from the Federal matching funds program.
If he is not released from the Federal funding program McCain is subject to spending limits that would lead to his campaign being outspent by Democrats at a ratio of 10 to 1.
The road to leaving the program is going to be a long and difficult one for McCain, despite what his lawyers would like the public to believe.
McCain was declared eligible for the matching funds program last summer, and he kept the door open to receiving funds all the way through Fall and up until just before Super Tuesday when he notified the FEC that he wished to withdraw from the program.
The FEC chairman David Mason then responded to McCain’s request with a letter, which McCain’s campaign received on February 19th , which stated that he can not officially leave the federal program until the FEC officially rules on his case and releases him.
Now the case itself (which hinges on the terms of a loan McCain received from a Florida bank and whether or not eventual federal funds were used by McCain as collateral thus trapping him in the federal program) is not a certainty although McCain’s lawyers are declaring that the loan is not an issue.
Some legal experts say that the McCain team is on shaky legal ground. The problem is that no candidate has been this manipulative of the system before, so there is no firm legal precedent. McCain’s legal team has simply stated that federal matching funds are constitutional because they are voluntary; implying it should also be voluntary to leave the program, but Chairman Mason disagrees.
Even assuming that McCain would be able to get the FEC board to rule in his favor, the biggest problem he is having right now is getting the case heard and ruled upon at all.
This is because the FEC is made up of a board of six seats, all of which are nominated by the President and approved by the Senate. Currently only two seats are filled. President Bush has nominated four, but the Senate is in gridlock about how to vote on the nominees. The Republican minority wants all four nominees to be approved or disapproved as a single group, either all in or all out. And the Democratic leadership wants individual hearings on each nominee. The reason for this is that the Senate Democrats point to one nominee in particular, Hans von Spakovsky, who they say has a questionable ethical record.
So right now, while the Senate is in gridlock, McCain is making the decision to charge forward like there is no problem; this strategy could work out several ways. One scenario would eventually see at least 4 of the 6 FEC board seats filled, allowing for a quorum that rules in McCain’s favor releasing McCain from federal spending limits. In a different scenario the FEC board is not seated for several more weeks or even months, and by the time they rule McCain has already exceeded federal spending limits, and if they rule against him, he would have broken the law. The catch is that McCain’s lawyers can argue until they are blue in the face about whether or not he should be allowed out of the federal funding program based on the terms of the loan, but it is an extremely clear cut rule that McCain has to wait to go over the spending limit until the FEC holds a quorum to officially release him with their legal decision. If the FEC board rules against him after he has already exceeded federal spending limits he would be facing criminal charges and a large fine that would be a huge black eye for his candidacy.
Regardless of what the final outcome of the case is, one thing is certain, McCain has gone from the straight talk express to being bunkered down with a team of lawyers to fight his way out of a shady deal that is justifiably being labeled by Democrats as unethical.