The Washington Post asserted in a March 27 editorial that Sen. John McCain is a “champion” of “campaign finance reform,” despite having stated less than three weeks before that McCain's decision to “deriv[e] some benefit from the matching funds system and then abandon it when that was to his advantage” was “not Mr. McCain's proudest moment as a reformer.”
The Washington Post asserted in a March 27 editorial that Sen. John McCain is a “champion” of “campaign finance reform” -- despite having stated less than three weeks before, in a March 10 editorial, that McCain's decision to “deriv[e] some benefit from the matching funds system and then abandon it when that was to his advantage” was “not Mr. McCain's proudest moment as a reformer.”
The March 27 editorial, which criticized Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress for making the Federal Election Commission (FEC) “incapable of functioning,” also claimed that McCain “has more than a passing interest in ensuring a functioning FEC.” The editorial did not mention McCain's current dispute with the FEC. As 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. ... McCain's lawyer, Trevor Potter, said Wednesday evening that McCain has withdrawn from the system and that the FEC can't stop him."
In a March 23 article, the Post reported: “McCain has officially broken the limits imposed by the presidential public financing system, according to reports filed last week by the campaign. McCain has spent $58.4 million on his primary effort. Those who have committed to public financing can spend no more than $54 million on their primary bid.” A February 22 Washington Post article previously reported: “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.”
As Media Matters for America has noted, McCain may not be able to opt out of the public financing system for the primary campaign after obtaining a loan for his campaign in November 2007. Under the loan agreement, McCain could have been required to stay in the race, regardless of the viability of his campaign, in order to apply for matching funds to pay back the loan.
The March 10 editorial also noted that, because the FEC must approve McCain's request to withdraw from matching funds for the primary, a non-functional FEC could leave McCain “trapped” in the public financing system:
The wrinkle in Mr. McCain's case is twofold. First, the FEC is, literally, non-functional. It has only two sitting members, and the chairman, Republican David M. Mason, told the McCain campaign in a letter last month that he believes that four commissioners, a quorum, are needed to approve Mr. McCain's request to withdraw. This is surreal. Mr. McCain shouldn't be trapped by a standoff over which he has no control -- although, we would note, the logjam could be fixed if Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) were to allow an up-or-down vote on the pending nominees.
Second, and more problematic, is the question of whether Mr. McCain used his eligibility for matching funds as collateral for a $4 million loan; if so, Mr. McCain would be deemed to have used the matching fund program to his financial advantage, even without having received any money, and so would be bound by the spending limits. Mr. McCain didn't directly pledge the expected matching funds as security, but he did promise that if his campaign went badly, he would stay in the race and seek matching funds in order to be able to repay the bank. The McCain campaign and the bank say that this does not rise to the level of using the FEC certification as collateral for the loan and that they were careful to avoid that trap. The DNC has filed a complaint with the FEC asserting that it does rise to such a level and that Mr. McCain is therefore stuck in the matching funds system. However the loan terms are understood, this is not Mr. McCain's proudest moment as a reformer: He derived some benefit from the matching funds system and then abandoned it when that was to his advantage.
From The Washington Post's March 27 editorial, headlined “Scandal in the Making”:
This situation is an embarrassment waiting to mushroom into a scandal. It is outrageous to have the country going through a contested election with the agency that is supposed to oversee enforcement of the election laws incapable of functioning. The reason for the logjam is that Senate Democrats have opposed confirming the pending Republican nominee, Hans A. von Spakovsky, because of concern about his actions on voting rights while he was a Justice Department official. Republicans, led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), have refused to hold separate up-or-down votes on all four nominees for fear that Mr. von Spakovsky would lose -- and they would be outnumbered at an unavoidably political agency that is supposed to be equally divided between the two parties. Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), in a letter to White House Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten, reiterated his promise that if Mr. von Spakovsky's nomination were to be defeated, he would “quickly review” a replacement nominee.
There's no love lost between Mr. McConnell, an ardent foe of campaign finance reform, and John McCain, the Republican Party's presumptive presidential nominee and champion of such reform. But Mr. McCain -- who has said he would accept public financing for the general election if his Democratic opponent agreed to do the same -- has more than a passing interest in ensuring a functioning FEC. Perhaps he could use his newfound influence within the party to get this problem solved.