McCain's mixed blessings

FEC chair criticized by McCain now enforcing rules against him

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Republican John McCain, self-proclaimed champion of campaign finance reform, has a much-changed outlook on the role of the Federal Election Commission since becoming his party’s nominee for president. In an interview for the Buying of the President 2004, McCain told the Center he was disappointed over the appointments of certain FEC members, including David Mason, for not being willing to enforce the campaign finance reforms passed by Congress.

“I am deeply disturbed about the appointments of Mr. [Michael] Toner, Mr. Mason, and Mr. [Bradley] Smith, who are outspoken opponents to any kind of reform and have therefore issued regulations which contradict both the intent and the letter of the law in the most corrupt fashion that I’ve ever observed. That’s what concerns me. If the president signed the bill then he should have at least appointed people that were unbiased, if not favored, toward reform or more.”

Today, it appears McCain would prefer the FEC embrace strict enforcement anywhere but his campaign.

In February, then-FEC chairman Mason voiced concern over McCain’s attempt to opt out of the public finance system. Because McCain had previously agreed to accept public funds, his actions could be in violation of campaign finance law, Mason argued in a letter requesting a detailed explanation from the McCain campaign.

McCain’s aides dismissed the possibility of a violation, but if Mason’s preliminary interpretation wins out, it could spell big trouble for the Arizona senator. The Republican candidate long ago passed the voluntary limits candidates agree to when accepting primary matching funds, and his campaign would indeed be breaking election finance law. More significantly, McCain would not be able to spend any more money until after the Republican National Convention in early September, which would leave him severely handicapped against opponent Barack Obama’s record-breaking money machine.

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