Sen. John McCain, in a just completed call with bloggers, said he was confident his campaign was on “solid ground” in asserting its right to withdraw from the public financing system after once registering for–but never receiving–public funds.
His comments came after I asked him to respond to a Washington Post story from today, which reported that the Federal Election Commission has not yet granted McCain’s request to withdraw from the public financing system, a development that could severely impair his ability to spend money. If he were to be locked into the public system, he would be limited to spending $54 million through the nominating process, which officially runs until September’s Republican National Convention. And he has already spent $49 million.
McCain said that the situation Dick Gephardt faced in 2004 was “exactly comparable to ours,” because he first applied for but then opted out of the public funding system before actually accepting any money.
“I think we are on solid grounds, and we will continue to maintain that position, and there is ample precedent for it, not just an idea of ours,” McCain said.
I followed up by asking him about some of the thornier issues raised by the Washington Post story, including the idea that he may have used potential federal matching funds to expedite his ability to get on the ballot in Ohio as well as collateral for a loan, which some election lawyers would argue should lock him into the public financing system. Also, with four vacancies on the six-member commission, the FEC will not be able to reach a quorum
to make a determination on this issue in the near future.
McCain responded by saying he was “not an expert” on the details but that he could have his lawyer, former FEC commissioner Trevor Potter, discuss it with me further.
As for the idea that his federal funding certification was used to speed up his ability to get on the ballot in Ohio, he told me, “I don’t know anything about Ohio, but I’m confident we could have gotten on the ballot under any circumstances, so I don’t know about whether we had to use that vehicle or not.”
“We are on solid ground,” he reiterated noting that his campaign has been advised by several experts in addition to Trevor Potter. “I am not an expert on the Federal Elections Commission, but I am blessed with having one of the most respected former chairmen of the FEC as my top advisor on this issue.”
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