Bloomberg report on public funding in general election ignored McCain's possible campaign finance violation

››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

A Bloomberg article noted that Sen. John McCain "has pledged to take public financing [for the general election presidential campaign] if the Democrat does. His campaign noted that [Sen. Barack] Obama 'promised the American people' he would take public financing," then quoted a McCain adviser as saying, "Senator McCain isn't in the habit of breaking his word, and he hopes Senator Obama doesn't either." The article did not report that McCain could be breaking federal law for failing to abide by restrictions placed on candidates participating in the public financing system during their party's primary season.

In an April 11 Bloomberg article, reporter Jonathan D. Salant wrote that if Sen. Barack Obama is the Democratic nominee for president, he "is faced with two choices: go private, becoming the first presidential candidate since 1976 to do so, or take public money, as he pledged to do shortly after his campaign began last year." Salant added that Sen. John McCain "has pledged to take public financing if the Democrat does. His campaign noted that Obama 'promised the American people' he would take public financing. 'Senator McCain isn't in the habit of breaking his word, and he hopes Senator Obama doesn't either,' said Mark Salter, a senior adviser to the 71-year-old Arizona senator."* However, Salant did not report that McCain could be breaking federal law for failing to abide by restrictions placed on candidates participating in the public financing system during their party's primary season. Under the Presidential Primary Matching Payment Account Act, violators could face fines up to $25,000 and up to five years of jail time. Federal Election Commission (FEC) chairman David Mason has taken the position that McCain cannot unilaterally opt out of public financing in the primary without FEC approval, meaning that every day that McCain spends beyond the limits of the public financing system that he has already exceeded, he could be breaking the law.

As Media Matters for America noted, McCain may not be able to opt out of the public financing system for the primary campaign after signing an agreement in November for a loan for his campaign, which could have required him to remain in the race, regardless of whether his candidacy was viable, in order to receive matching funds to pay back the loan. Indeed, the Associated Press reported on February 21: "The government's top campaign finance regulator says John McCain can't drop out of the primary election's public financing system until he answers questions about a loan he obtained to kickstart his once faltering presidential campaign. Federal Election Commission Chairman David Mason, in a letter to McCain this week, said the all-but-certain Republican nominee needs to assure the commission that he did not use the promise of public money to help secure a $4 million line of credit he obtained in November." A March 23 Washington Post article reported that "McCain has officially broken the limits imposed by the presidential public financing system," and a February 22 article in the Post noted that "[k]nowingly violating the spending limit is a criminal offense that could put McCain at risk of stiff fines and up to five years in prison."

From the April 11 Bloomberg article:

A look at last month's fundraising underscores the point: McCain had his best period in March, collecting $15 million; Obama brought in $40 million, following a record-busting $55 million haul in February.

Moreover, about half of McCain's supporters have given the maximum $2,300, compared with only a third for Obama, according to the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics. That means many more of Obama's record 1.2 million donors can give again and again.

Now, Obama, 46, is faced with two choices: go private, becoming the first presidential candidate since 1976 to do so, or take public money, as he pledged to do shortly after his campaign began last year.

'Creaky'

Obama told reporters today in Indianapolis that the campaign-finance system is "creaky'' and needs to be overhauled. He said nominees could raise more money through small online donations than through public funding, which would allow them to "compete in as many states as possible.''

[...]

McCain, the presumed Republican nominee, has pledged to take public financing if the Democrat does.

His campaign noted that Obama "promised the American people'' he would take public financing. "Senator McCain isn't in the habit of breaking his word, and he hopes Senator Obama doesn't either,'' said Mark Salter, a senior adviser to the 71-year-old Arizona senator.

Earlier Pledge

Obama said in November that if he won the nomination, he would participate in the presidential-financing system and "aggressively pursue an agreement'' with the Republican nominee to take federal funds.

He said today that should he win the nomination he intends "to have conversations with Senator McCain'' about how to prevent outside groups from drowning out the candidates if they take public funds.

*Update: In a subsequent version of this article, Bloomberg removed this passage: "McCain, the presumed Republican nominee, has pledged to take public financing if the Democrat does. His campaign noted that Obama 'promised the American people' he would take public financing. 'Senator McCain isn't in the habit of breaking his word, and he hopes Senator Obama doesn't either,' said Mark Salter, a senior adviser to the 71-year-old Arizona senator."

In its place, the following was inserted: Obama "said today that should he win the nomination he intends 'to have conversations with Senator McCain' about how to prevent outside groups from drowning out the candidates if they take public funds. ... McCain, 71, the presumed Republican nominee, drew a distinction between honoring a pledge and talking about outside spending. 'He committed in writing to taking public financing in the general election if I would; I committed to it,' McCain told reporters in Dallas today. 'Now, all those other discussions might be interesting, and I hope over time, valuable, but the fact is that he's saying one thing and he's doing another.'" In its update, Bloomberg still did not note McCain's possible campaign finance violation.

Posted In
Elections, Campaign Finance
Network/Outlet
Bloomberg
Stories/Interests
Barack Obama, John McCain, 2008 Elections
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