- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 26, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Amid media reports that Barack Obama may now be raising money at a monthly rate approaching $50 million — a staggering pace that would shatter previous records and set the stage for once-unimaginable hauls in the near future — the chairman of the Federal Election Commission (FEC) has just tossed a monkey wrench into the preconvention fund-raising prospects of John McCain.

On Feb. 20, Mr. Obama’s campaign reported to the FEC that its contributions from individuals in January exceeded $36 million. That same month, on the heels of his historic come-from-behind triumph in the Jan. 8 New Hampshire primary, Mr. McCain set a personal fund-raising record, bringing in $11.7 million, which, alas, was less than a third of Mr. Obama’s take. With Mr. Obama winning 13 of 21 primaries and caucuses on Feb. 5 and then sweeping the Potomac Primary (Maryland, Virginia, D.C.) a week later before defeating Hillary Clinton by 17 points in Wisconsin on Feb. 19, his campaign coffers have been bulging with Internet-driven donations projected to total as much as $50 million this month, a sum that would exceed what Mr. McCain had raised throughout 2007 and January.

Meanwhile, on Feb. 19, FEC Chairman David Mason sent a letter to Mr. McCain advising him that his Feb. 6 effort to withdraw his “certification of eligibility to receive” taxpayer-financed matching funds during the primary campaign “requires an affirmative vote of four [FEC] commissioners.” Due to a dispute between the White House and Senate Democrats, including Mr. Obama, the normally six-member FEC has only two commissioners, which is two shy of its quorum required to hold votes. A more complicating factor involves the question of whether Mr. McCain’s campaign used the prospect of reapplying for matching funds at a later date in order to obtain a $1 million loan last month. Pledging his certification of eligibility to receive $5.8 million in matching funds to obtain the loan would have obligated Mr. McCain to accept the matching money and abide by the restrictions that accompany the funds.

The principal restriction would limit Mr. McCain’s preconvention campaign spending to $54 million. That limit would permit him to spend only about $5 million from the beginning of February to the Republican convention in early September. Having rejected matching funds for the primary season, Mr. Obama would be free to spend as much money as he could raise before the Democratic convention in late August. If Mr. Obama effectively clinches the nomination with victories in Ohio and Texas on March 4, he conceivably could raise an additional $500 million during the 25 weeks before the convention begins. That’s 100 times the $5 million that Mr. McCain could spend between now and the Republican convention if Mr. McCain cannot disentangle himself from his FEC predicament.


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