McCain's matching funds problem: more than just the bank loan

-- originally posted -- 2008-02-25 02:35:22

I haven’t seen this discussed much, but there is something that Matt Browner Hamlin pointed out earlier today that brings John McCain’s use of the public financing provisions to a whole new level (at least it would seem that way).

You see, McCain didn’t just “sort of pledge” it as collateral for a bank loan. He also used it to shortcut his way onto the Ohio ballot. So, to me (and I am just a dumb blogger), it would seem that either he is locked into the public financing or he can be ineligible for the Ohio republican primary and taken off the ballot. Now, since he pretty much has the nomination close to sewn up, it would seem to be smart politics to make himself ineligible for the Ohio primary. But the bigger picture here is the shenanigans that McCain is going through with respect to the matching funds in order to give himself either an advantage or stay in the race, and he is using campaign finance laws - the same laws that he claims to champion - in order to do so.

So much for his credibility, integrity and reputation as a “reformer”.

The background is laid out in a post by Brad Smith, who is only a former republican FEC Commissioner. A good portion of the post is the background on McCain opting in, then out, then in (sort of, so he says) again to the federal matching funds program. And while much of this focuses on the loans that McCain took out, there is a juicy nugget about how McCain used the FEC matching funds certification in order to automatically qualify for the Ohio ballot (emphasis mine):

Senator McCain used his FEC certification for at least one other purpose. Qualifying for the presidential primary ballot in Ohio is a complex process, requiring a candidate to gather over 100 signatures in each of the state’s 18 districts, using separate petitions for each county within the district, which must be filed with local election boards around the state. Additionally, the candidate must gather still more signatures statewide, all under some very complicated rules and local interpretations. Fred Thompson, Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, and most of the presidential campaigns went through this process, at considerable time and expense. With a filing date of January 3, this was done by these campaigns at precisely the moment McCain was desperately borrowing to keep his campaign afloat, lacking money and resources to organize and gather signatures to be placed on the Ohio ballot.

But Ohio has an alternative means of getting on the ballot – you can simply present your FEC matching funds authorization to the Secretary of State, and go straight to the ballot, without petitioning. And this is what Senator McCain did. Does this amount to use of the matching funds certification locking Senator McCain into the system (not to mention a possible fraud on the state of Ohio)? Again, it is an interesting legal question to which I don’t know the answer, but it is not one that the McCain campaign – or more importantly, the FEC – can simply brush aside.

I want to call your attention to a couple of points in this. For starters, nearly all of the other campaigns went to great lengths and incurred significant costs to go through a rigorous process in order to get on the ballot. As Jonathan Singer at MyDD points out, this cost Dean approximately $2 - $3 million in 2004. And at the time, McCain was borrowing $3 - $5 million.

This republican former FEC Commissioner wondered in writing whether John McCain was potentially committing election fraud on the state of Ohio in order to get on the ballot.

These are the lengths that John McCain would go to in order to gain power and continue the failed policies of the Bush administration. He is willing to come as close to violating campaign finance law (which is ironically the “reform” he champions the most) or maybe even violate campaign finance law.

At least Howard Dean is on it and calling McCain on his violations:

Dean told reporters McCain has already used the prospect of nearly $6 million in federal matching funds -- which he now says he won't claim -- as collateral for a January campaign loan and to obtain automatic ballot access in every state.

Dean said he was filing a complaint with the Federal Election Commission to block McCain from quitting the public financing system, which imposes a spending cap on candidates.

Good for Dean. And good that this story is getting a bit more attention - in the manner and from the angle that it deserves. Mr. “double talk” is making a mockery of campaign finance laws, if not outright breaking them.

I’d bet that Ohio is not the only state where he did this. And I am convinced that this is the type of scandal that will do more damage to McCain as a credible and honest candidate than pretty much anything else. This goes directly towards his biggest perceived strength.

The combination of this, the McLobbyist scandal and his well deserved name of Senator Hothead should be a deadly trifecta for his chances in November.

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McCain is now breaking the law by ignoring the campaign spending restrictions for the Republican primary that came when he asked for federal matching funds -- funds he used as collateral on a loan that helped keep his campaign going.

But now that the lobbyist and special interest money has started pouring into his campaign, he's trying to back out of the promise he made just a few months ago. They're feeding so much cash into his bank account, this "reformer" wants nothing to do with federal campaign finance laws anymore.

That's why today, we're filing a formal complaint with the Federal Election Commission demanding that John McCain be held to the campaign finance laws. Trying to back out shows a total lack of integrity and honesty -- he made a deal with the American people to to abide by the law, and in return, he was guaranteed taxpayer money that he used to back a loan.