12 February 2008

So Much for Public Finance

The McCain campaign has announced that it will not accept public campaign financing for the primaries. Last summer, when McCain’s campaign was struggling, he had applied for public financing but never spent any of the funds. Now McCain sent letters to the Federal Election Commission and the Treasury Department indicating his withdrawal from the Presidential Campaign Financing System. The Federal Matching Funds would have kicked in at the end of March.

I am dubious that withdrawal from the process is actually that easy. The campaign seems to be relying on the delayed draw date to be their rationale for not accepting Federal money. In the real world, can one apply for a loan and be approved, yet the lendee cancels it before spending any money? But this is not the real world, it is Fantasyland-on-the-Potomac.

The FEC is notorious for finding fault with campaigns years after campaigns have ended. But the FEC has diminished down to two members because of a nomination standoff between Congress and the Bush Administration. Hence, the FEC can not achieve quorum and the work is backing up. Thus the FEC will be unable to act effectively in time to protest this campaign slight of hand. So much for depending on the government to reform and referee the Presidential Campaign.

The move by McCain is important not only because it lifts the $50 million overall spending cap on the primaries, it also removes the per state spending limitations. The per state spending limitation would have crippled McCain campaign in states like New Hampshire, where spending in the early, expensive primary would have put him close to the cap.

The lack of limitations in campaign spending is important even after the primaries. Due to the front loaded primary process, there is six months between the end of the vigorously contested primary contests and the Republican convention. If McCain used Federal Matching Funds, his campaign would have been effectively dark from April to the end of August, relying on earned media. The lamestream media would not uncritically cover McCain events. Democrat 527 groups will definitely outspend Republican ones for paid friendly media. And McCain’s disdain for Talk Radio will not win him any friends over the air.

So this is one small step towards keeping competitive. I guess that a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.

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