McCain campaign reels in riches from 2008 legal fund

Senate campaign benefits financially from 2008 White House run

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 Updated:

More than four years after the fact, John McCain the senator is benefiting big time from John McCain the presidential candidate.

That's because the McCain-Palin Compliance Fund Inc. of a presidential election more than four years distant transferred $819,200 this winter to the Arizona Republican's U.S. Senate campaign committee, according to a document filed today with the Federal Election Commission.

Cash transfers between established political committees are in general, legal, and McCain for several years after the 2008 election routinely shuttled funds among the several political committees under his watch. They include his 2008 presidential committee, a Senate committee, joint fundraising committees and a leadership political action committee.

But the McCain-Palin Compliance Fund was supposed to raise private dollars to pay for legal and accounting costs associated with McCain complying with presidential campaign finance rules.

It now will ostensibly fuel a Senate re-election bid, which would next come in 2016 for the 76-year-old senator.

As it was, McCain —  the last major presidential candidate to accept public presidential matching funds in exchange for limiting private donations — used a portion of the McCain-Palin Compliance Fund's money in 2008 for advertising, travel, facility rentals, finance consulting, website services and other such expenses, exploiting a legal loophole in federal election law.

Last year, the compliance fund also donated $9 million to an educational foundation that bears McCain's name and is run by a trio of the senator's top political fundraisers.

McCain first created the compliance committee in February 2008 under the name John McCain 2008 General Election Compliance Fund, amending its name when adding then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate, according to federal records.

The compliance fund's overriding prohibition: it could not directly fund McCain's presidential campaigning efforts, for which he had a separate political committee.

The fund, however, transferred $550,000 in February to the yet-to-be-terminated John McCain 2008 Inc., which as of March 31 reported $633,000 cash on hand. The transfer was legal, apparently, because the race was over.

A McCain representative could not immediately be reached for comment.

Update, 4:49 p.m.: McCain spokesman Brian Rogers said in an email that the senator plans this year to consolidate the cash across his remaining presidential-related accounts into his Senate committee. 

"The [compliance fund] is getting closed out this year, so transferring those funds to the campaign committee gives Senator McCain maximum flexibility to manage them in the coming months and years," Rogers wrote.

Rogers concurs that such transfers are legal, and he notes that former Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., transferred 2004 presidential compliance fund cash into his Senate committee three years after losing his own White House bid.

Immediately before the 2008 presidential election, the McCain-Palin Compliance Fund boasted more than $20.5 million in its account. That amount has dwindled to less than $35,000 as of March 31, according to its latest filing.

While transferring money from a compliance fund to a dormant campaign appears legal, an online donation form for the McCain-Palin Compliance Fund, which was active until being taken down following this article's posting (see screenshot), seems to suggest otherwise.

It reads, in part: "Contributions to the Compliance Fund will be used solely for legal and accounting services to ensure compliance with federal law, including a portion of the cost of broadcast advertising, campaign offices, and computer/website expenses. Federal law prohibits the Compliance Fund contributions from being used for a candidate's election."