Jonathan Singer of MyDD reports:
First, McCain was able to get around ballot access rules for the primaries in states around the country — at a value of $2-$3 million (what Dean’s own campaign had to spend on ballot access, having not participated in the public financing system in 2004) — by participating in the program. Pulling out now would enable him to reap the material benefit of ballot access offered by the program — again, valued at millions of dollars — without having to abide by the program’s overall spending limit (somewhere in the neighborhood of $54 million).
Second, McCain used the promise of public funds as collateral to help secure a private loan. Once a candidate uses actual public funds in this manner, they have used those dollars, thus locking them into the program. This is key, not only in that it seems to bind him to the program but also in that McCain showed a clear willingness to capitalize on voluntary taxpayer money in order to help him raise more funds from special interest lobbyists (some of whom are at the upper echelons of his campaign staff).
Finally, now that McCain is in the program and hasn’t been certified to pull out — an act that requires a vote of the FEC — it seems that he may have already gone over the spending limit in violation of the law. As of the last campaign finance filing deadline, McCain was already coming dangerously close to the $54 million threshold, and in the weeks since he might have already passed it.
In short, this is an issue of integrity — and John McCain’s lack of it. What the DNC is asking the FEC to do is fairly simple: Require McCain’s campaign to abide by the legally binding contract it created with the federal government to enjoy the benefits of the public financing system — benefits his campaign has already used — in return for abiding by the program’s spending limits. Soon the ball will be in the FEC’s court. Let’s see where they go from here.
I’d like to see how this complaint is adjudicated in the absence of a quorum on the FEC. Right now there are four slots open on the Commission and they cannot form to act on any issue. It will be interesting to see how Dean seeks to change that – will he push for the Senate to quickly confirm the pending nominees, including the arch-conservative vote suppressor Hans von Spakovsky? Or will Democrats seek a new batch of nominees before they confirm them?
Separate from the desire to get McCain to, you know, not break the law, the political value of the DNC’s complaint would be to get the FEC to agree with them and force McCain to freeze spending between now and when he officially receives the GOP nomination. That would provide a massive structural advantage to the Democratic nominee and force McCain to be a punching bag in the ad war between now and late August.
The key in my mind is how can the FEC act on this complaint now? What can Democrats do to ensure that action is taken on this complaint? A negative news cycle on McCain from this complaint is not going to damage his chances of winning in November, whereas an FEC decision tying him to public financing for the duration of the primary season could help ensure Democratic victory.